A historic fire broke out in the Port hills below Governors Bay near Christchurch around midnight on February 14, 2017. The air had a chemical smell and the smoke clouds showed hues of color. We spoke to some locals to catch what was going on.
An employee at Cheesemongers told us she had lived in Christchurch her whole life and never saw anything like it. No one knew the cause of the fire. She and her colleagues were glued to the radio, waiting for updated reports.
She shared the latest news with us: another suburb was being evacuated as the fire spread. Flames had become visible from homes in the area the night before. With gusty winds and dry conditions, the fire progressed, faster than expected, down the Port Hills area towards the city. Eleven homes burned to the ground, despite efforts of the firemen and helicopters sent out.
They managed to stop the fire about 100 meters from the homes, but expressed frustration over their continued fight against the fire, wind, and fickle weather. The wind continued to change direction, pushing and fueling the raging flames from all sides. The fire was described as not contained, but not out of control.
One helicopter pilot fought the fires all night and all day, going on only two hours of sleep, according to his statements on a radio interview. One firefighter was killed when his helicopter crashed. Our hearts dropped at that piece of awful news.
Roads leading to the area were closed. As our campground was in that direction, we hoped we would be able to get back to it. Some livestock was lost but most farmers were able to move their animals out of the hills in time.
At 6pm the day after the fire began, the mayors of Christchurch and neighboring Selway declared a state of emergency.
Christchurch’s mayor commented that the state of emergency was necessary for more control and ease over closing roads, mandating safety orders, and overseeing operations. She noted that all such added measures were taken for the city’s safety.
Three community centers were opened to house citizens who had been evacuated from their homes. Some locals are offering accommodation in their homes to those affected by the fire through the Christchurch Fire and Assistance Group on Facebook.