Lack of communication during Christchurch's Port Hills fires angers resident who lost home

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel says more regular updates were needed from the Selwyn District Council during ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel says more regular updates were needed from the Selwyn District Council during February's Port Hills fires.

The Selwyn District Council went nearly eight hours without giving the Christchurch mayor's office an update during February's Port Hills fires.

Meanwhile, Kieran Grace's Worsleys Rd house was burning down.

Correspondence to and from authorities, supplied to Stuff, paints a picture of confusion and a lack of communication during the fires, which destroyed 11 homes.

Kieran Grace's home was burning down about the same time the Christchurch City Council was requesting more information ...
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Kieran Grace's home was burning down about the same time the Christchurch City Council was requesting more information about the fires from the Selwyn District Council.

In an email sent on February 15 at 5.11pm, a staffer from Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel's office wrote: "Lianne notes that we haven't had an update from the Selwyn EOC [emergency operations centre] since about 10 this morning. Need more regular updates if possible?"

READ MORE:
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A response from the personal assistant of Christchurch Civil Defence controller John Mackie read: "This concern is also expressed by the controller and we are now acting to get regular updates from Selwyn District."

Grace said it was "crap" to hear of the lack of communication between the authorities.

"That's the exact time – five o'clock was when my house was burning down, so it's pretty s... to hear that.

"It's just crap to hear that even the council were wondering why the Selwyn guys weren't passing that information on," he said.

Career firefighters reported to their own commanders during the fires, but the lead came from rural firefighters at the Selwyn District Council. During much of the week, the Selwyn council was the lead agency for fire management and communications.

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Grace said the fire "rapidly expanded" between 10am and 3pm on February 15.

"That's when they needed the most information," he said.

"They didn't have any word at all . . . to declare a state of emergency.

"Had the information been passed on as it needed to be we may have received some more help."

Selwyn District Council chief executive David Ward said issues "relating to inter-agency liaison and communication" would be covered during the review of the fires.

"It would be inappropriate for us to comment until that review has been completed," he said.

Emails obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show there was also confusion over whose patch the fire was on – the Selwyn District Council's or the Christchurch City Council's.

Dalziel received an email on February 13 at 9.56pm, suggesting the fires were under Selwyn District Council and Department of Conservation jurisdiction, but were threatening city council land.

"It is possible they are burning onto council land, however they won't have that certainty until the morning now."

The mayor responded: "I'm a bit worried that this isn't right. It really looks like both fires are in our patch."

In a separate email exchange with the Christchurch Civil Defence public information team, dated February 17, Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson took aim at the lack of notice before public meetings.

"Jeepers. And you truly think a txt at 10pm for a 10am mtg [sic] to evacuated people is OK?" she wrote.

"I disagree. I think you have seriously misinterpreted what people want."

During a public meeting on February 18, an emotional Dalziel admitted many of the communications problems from the earthquakes had been repeated

"In an emergency the mayor of a city doesn't have a very specific role. I am not a decision maker when it comes to cordons . . . but I am accountable to you."

 - Stuff

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