A devastating fire burned 1645 hectares of land on the Port Hills in February 2017, claiming the life of one firefighter and destroying nine homes and two other structures.

Port hills fire damage

Initially there were two fires that started on Monday 13 February, but they merged into one, cutting across the boundary from Selwyn District into Christchurch City with a 51 kilometre perimeter.

At its peak there were up to 150 people on the ground battling the blaze and 14 helicopters and three fixed wing aircraft. More than 36 agencies were involved in the firefighting effort.

Several hundred people were evacuated and a state of local emergency was in place for Christchurch and Selwyn for two weeks, ending on 1 March.

Aerial imagery (external link)  shows the extent of the fires.

Erosion and sediment control

Environment Canterbury has a guide on options for erosion and sediment control [PDF, 894 KB] and advice on when consents might be needed for fire recovery work [PDF, 53 KB]

Track and walks

Some Port Hills tracks remain temporarily closed. Check on the status of tracks

Christchurch Adventure Park

The Christchurch Adventure Park remains closed until further notice. Read more (external link)

Public submissions open for fire operational review

Public to have say as part of review, which will focus on the response to the fire and key lessons for the future.

Public submissions have opened as part of a review into the operational response to the Port Hills fire, led by senior Australian firefighter Alan Goodwin.

The New Zealand Fire Service and National Rural Fire Authority have initiated the review, which will focus on the response to the fire and key lessons for how fire authorities carry out their duties and serve their communities in the future.

Mr Goodwin is now seeking information from people who were affected by the fires. 

In order to provide information, please use the submission form  (external link) on New Zealand Fire Service website. If you would like to receive your form by post, please call the NZFS and NRFA Headquarters on 04 496 3600. Please make your submissions by Monday 12 June 2017.

The terms of reference (external link) were confirmed by the fire agencies involved in leading the response – New Zealand Fire Service and the two Rural Fire Authorities, Selwyn District Council and Department of Conservation. They set out guidelines for what the review will investigate, how it will be carried out and who will be involved.

Mr Goodwin is the Manager International Programs for the National Resource Sharing Centre, Australasian Fire and Emergency Authorities Council (AFAC). He was previously Chief Fire Officer with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Victoria, Australia.  He has spent more than 25 years in the forest, fire and Emergency Management industry.

It is expected the findings will be released in October.

The recovery plan

Recovery teams in Christchurch and Selwyn have been tasked with developing a recovery plan. This would focus on four main areas: Natural environment, built environment, social and economic.

The two men tasked with leading the Port Hills fire recovery are aiming to have a recovery action plan completed within a few weeks. Murray Sinclair and Al Lawn were appointed as recovery managers for Christchurch city and Selwyn district respectively by the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group Joint Committee on February 24.

Since then, they and the multi-agency team they have assembled have been working to assess the full extent of the fire’s impact. The team is focusing on four areas – the impact on the natural environment, the impact on the built environment, the impact on people’s lives, and on the economy.

They have also been gathering information on how the fire behaved in the hope they can prevent a repeat of the conditions that led to the devastating blaze.

Mr Sinclair said a key focus of the recovery plan was on building resilience and mitigating risk so it was important they had a comprehensive understanding of the fire’s behaviour and why it did what it did.

As part of the recovery planning they would look at whether there should be a requirement for property owners on the urban/rural boundary to have a ‘defensible space’ around their homes.

A defensible space is essentially a buffer that separates a house from the surrounding vegetation so it slows or stops the spread of fire.

Mr Lawn said high on the pair’s list of priorities this week was establishing a framework that matched those keen to help with the recovery with those in need of help.

“We want to encourage and enable the community as much as possible and be pragmatic. We know that people don’t want to be tied up with bureaucracy so we intend to work hard to balance that against safety considerations,’’ Mr Lawn said.

Read more about the experience the recovery managers bring to their roles  (external link)

The Port Hills Recovery Plan Discussion Document  [PDF, 867 KB][PDF 888KB] outlines the recovery goals, how the recovery of the Port Hills may be carried out, what success may look like and captures some of the feedback received at community meetings. 


Recovery team weekly reports

Below are links to the weekly reports from the Christchurch recovery team. Some information has been redacted because it contains personal information or material that is commercially sensitive. 

Recovery projects

Recovery works and how people can contribute to the Port Hills recovery effort.

Port Hills Fire Restoration Fund

People wanting to contribute to the Port Hills recovery effort can donate to the Port Hills Fire Restoration Fund, which is being managed by the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust.

The fund is a collaborative effort between Christchurch City Council, Selwyn District Council, government agencies, conservation groups and the public, and will support the recovery efforts on publicly owned conservation land and private land with important ecological values and conservation covenants.

Details about making a donation can be found on the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust website (external link) . (external link)


Ohinetahi Reserve

The Port Hills fires have seriously impacted the Summit Road Society’s Ohinetahi Reserve, with 83 hectares of native reserve burnt. Up to 1.3km of fencing also needs replacing.  

Find out more about how you can help Summit Road Society volunteers to preserve the landscape and remaining biodiversity at the Summit Road Society’s webpage. (external link)


Re-seeding – by drone

Drones have been used in a New Zealand-first trial to reseed the Port Hills following the fires.

Find out more about Drones and the Port Hills. (external link)

Home owner information

Welfare and practical information and contact details for people affected by the Port Hills fires.

The Port Hills fires have caused significant hardship for a number of residents and also affected the wider Christchurch community.


Wellbeing

Christchurch City Council has an emergency support team who are available to help people access services if they require support. Contact the Council on 03 941 8999. In an emergency, always phone 111.

Tips to help you cope
It is normal to feel anxious or stressed during abnormal events. Talking about how you feel to someone you trust can help. Check out AllRight (external link) for tips.

The Canterbury Earthquake Support Line is also available on 0800 777 846.


Building safety 

Electricity
If you have any concerns about your electricity please call Orion on 0800 363 9898.

Water
Your water should be clear and odour-free. Pressure should be the same as it was before the fires at all fixtures. If you have any concerns, contact the Council on 03 941 8999.

Stormwater
Please check your gutters and downpipes are intact with no signs of ponding that you haven’t previously experienced during rain events.

Sewer
Please check your toilets, showers, basins, etc, flush and drain as expected with no foul smells.

Buildings/structures
If you have any concerns about the safety of your building(s), or structures following the fires, please contact the Council on 03 941 8999 in the first instance.

Some properties may have experienced minor damage and discussions can quickly resolve whether any consents will be required for repairs or not.


Civil Defence payments

Civil Defence payments are available to people who have incurred costs as a result of the fire. The payments are managed through Work and Income on behalf of Civil Defence, but you do not have to register or be a Work and Income client to access them. To discuss your circumstances please phone 0800 559 009.


Insurance

If you have suffered damage from the fire you should immediately contact your insurer, if you have not already done so.


Animal welfare

For animal control advice please call the Council on 03 941 8999.

 

 

Restoring the land

Advice for landowners on the Port Hills.

Weed control is essential

Plant pests, or weeds, are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in New Zealand. Weeds can prevent natural regeneration of natives as well as impact established forest on neighbouring lands.

Unfortunately, weeds are often more efficient than natives in establishing after fire. Gorse, blackberry and Californian thistle are coming back in force on burnt areas and need to be controlled so that quick-growing natives such as bracken and poroporo can establish instead. These natives provide an important role in stabilizing the soils while still allowing for seeds dispersed by birds to establish and grow.

Weed control and ongoing plant maintenance are critical to the success of any restoration planting.

Advice on how to identify and control weeds can be found at www.ecan.govt.nz (external link) .


What to plant

Planting fast-growing native species that are found naturally on the Port Hills will provide habitat for native wildlife and a seed source for natural regeneration, as well as shelter for larger, slower-growing natives such as tōtara (Podocarpus totara).

There can be an amazing amount of variety between the same species of plant growing in different areas; in form, size, and leaf shape. By growing plants specific to different ecological areas we protect this diversity. The plants are also more likely to survive as they are specifically adapted to the conditions at this site.

Eco-sourcing ensures genetic purity by growing plants from seeds or cuttings collected from their original habitat or source.

Ten native plants natural to the Port Hills:

  1. Austroderia richardii - South Island toetoe
  2. Coprosma lucida – karamū
  3. Cordyline australis - ti kōuka/cabbage tree
  4. Corokia cotoneaster - korokio/wire-netting brush
  5. Dodonea viscosa - green akeake
  6. Hebe salicifolia and Hebe strictissima – koromiko
  7. Hoheria angustifolia - narrow-leaved lacebark
  8. Myoporum laetum – ngaio
  9. Olearia paniculata – golden akeake
  10. Pittosporum tenuifolium - kohuhu

For more information visit:


Planting for protection

Under the right conditions any plant will burn, but some plants are less flammable than others. You can create a ‘green firebreak’ by using low-flammable plants.

Poroporo (Solanum laciniatum) is quick-growing and has very low flammability. It’s not normally used in restoration projects but it will quickly provide ground cover to help suppress gorse and other weeds. Other species can be planted later and will start to naturally suppress the poroporo as they grow.

Ten green firebreak plants natural to the Port Hills:

  1. Coprosma propinqua - mingimingi 
  2. Coprosma robusta – karamū
  3. Fuchsia excorticata - kotukutuku / fuchsia
  4. Griselinia littoralis - kapuka / broadleaf
  5. Melicytus ramiflorus - mahoe / whiteywood
  6. Myrsine australis – māpou/matipou
  7. Pennantia corymbosa – kaikōmako
  8. Ripogonum scandens - kareao / supplejack
  9. Pseudopanax arboreus - whauwhaupaku / five finger
  10. Pseudopanax crassifolius - horoeka / lancewood

Note that some species will require shelter from frosts and or wind. Visit www.lucas-associates.co.nz/ecosystems/porthills.html (external link) for guidance.


Recommended nurseries

These three nurseries stock eco-sourced native plants. Motukarara and Wai-ora Landscapes only stock local eco-sourced plants. Trees for Canterbury also stock variegated natives and cultivars so ask their friendly staff for advice when purchasing.

Nursery Address Opening hours Contact details

Motukarara
Conservation
Nursery

Waihora Park
Motukarara
Christchurch 7672
Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm
Saturday, 10am to 3pm in May and Sept
(03) 329 7846
motukarara@doc.govt.nz
www.doc.govt.nz  (external link)
Wai Ora Forest
Landscapes Ltd
48 Watsons Rd
Harewood
Christchurch 8051
Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm (03) 359 2458
www.waioralandscapes.co.nz (external link)
Trees for
Canterbury
42 Charlesworth St
Woolston
Christchurch

Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm
Saturday & Sunday, 9am to 4pm

(03) 982 1028
info@treesforcanterbury.org.nz
www.treesforcanterbury.org.nz (external link) (external link)

Defensible space

A defensible space is essentially a buffer that separates a house from the surrounding vegetation so it slows or stops the spread of fire.

For more information visit www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/how-to-prepare-your-property/ (external link)

Resources

Links and presentations about the fire and fire protection.

Advice on protecting your property from fire

The National Rural Fire Authority (external link)  has information on fire safety tips (external link)  and practical ways  (external link) to protect your property.

You may also find these links helpful:


Ecological impact of the fire

At a meeting in March, people with expertise and an interest in the ecology of the Port Hills met to discuss the impact of the fire and look at regeneration and protection measures.

Below are copies of presentations by Dr Tim Curran, senior lecturer in ecology at Lincoln University, and Professor David Norton from the School of Forestry at University of Canterbury.

Port Hills Complex Fire 2017 Ecological Stakeholders Presentation PowerPoint David Norton [PDF, 2.4 MB]

Port Hills Complex Fire 2017 Ecological Stakeholders Presentation Tim Curran [PDF, 1.5 MB] [PDF, 2.4 MB]

This article describes in more detail the ideas behind green firebreaks.

The Conversation - Low flammability plants could help our homes survive bushfires (external link)