Port Hills fire: ‘Impact is the biggest in NZ history’


The Port Hills inferno was so powerful that it was spreading up to 160m every minute at it’s peak and was so intensely hot and powerful that nothing could have been done to stop it.

Firefighters are still battling to extinguish hot spots across a 2075ha area of the Christchurch hills, working around the clock for up to 17 hours each to prevent more lives and homes being lost as a result of the inferno.

The fire broke out on Monday night and was at it’s peak on Wednesday afternoon when two huge columns of smoke started to build, intensifying the flames and pushing crews to their limit.

“A lot of people are asking why we weren’t putting water on it while it was burning away,” said Rural Fire sector boss Phil Crutchley.

“We were looking at 100,000 kilowatts of temperature per square metre – any water we put on that just evaporated.

“We just pulled back, it was just too dangerous. There was nothing we could do that would have stopped that.”

As a result, homes were lost and other properties damaged – but he made no apology.

The columns had the power of two atomic bombs behind them and there was nothing on earth that could have been done to take the guts out of them.

“It’s live first – our lives,” he said.

“Property – you can replace. But you can’t replace lives.”

Incident Controller Richard McNamara said the fire was not the biggest he had fought, but it was by far the most traumatic.

“In terms of impact, yes, it’s the biggest in New Zealand history,” he said.

“I have faced bigger fires, I have seen more intense fires, but the impact this has had on the community – that’s the worst I’ve experience.

Crutchley said the fire was “gut wrenching”.

“It’s gut wrenching from the point that we know we’ve done all we can, but it’s not really good enough.

“We wonder what else we could have done – but there is nothing else. There is nothing else we could have chucked at it that would have stopped it, the energy was just too high.”

McNamara said it had been a hard week for the crews, but no one was ready to give up.

“It’s disturbing when you see someone’s home burn down in the space of two minutes. But we’ve got to swallow that and move on and try to save then next one – and we did.”

He said he was extremely proud of his teams, despite criticism from the public about the response to the fire and the management of the incident, and would “go to the grave” knowing everyone had done their jobs well.

One of his men told the Herald: “It’s our job, this has to be done”.

“We just keep soldiering on, we’ll keep working until it’s finished.”

– NZ Herald


  1. Don”t listen to the detractors, some people are never happy unless they are complaining and nothing is ever good enough for them even though they have no idea of the full facts You have done a fantastic job and I for one am 100% behind you!

  2. The ones doing the winging and moaning have never fought a fire or even been a fireman or woman I’m in rural voly fire in central Otago and that was a big bastard so on ya guys job well done

  3. I bet not one of those families would have wanted anyone to die or be injured to save their homes, not one.Of course it’s life before property. Everyone involed has done a sterling job, you are amazing people, we thank you.

  4. You guys have worked your guts out. I agree with the above comment Nick. .
    These people who criticise the crews have no idea & should just shut up.
    I am behind the fire crews 100%+.
    Liz Moore.

  5. Thank you to all who worked so hard to stop it spreading into Cashmere & surrounding suburbs. Thank you to the pilots, fire fighters, drivers – thank you.

  6. Maybe the officials could have handled it better, but that wasn’t the fire fighters fault! These incredibly brave people have no doubt prevented even worse things, and I totally agree that their lifes are (very!) important too!!

  7. Maybe the officials could have handled it better, but that wasn’t the fire fighters fault! These incredibly brave people have no doubt prevented even worse things, and I totally agree that their lifes are (very!) important too!

  8. I’m an ex-pat kiwi from ChCh. We were staying with dear friends on Westmorland, and stayed in place. The police new we were there, called on us several time to make sure we were ok and ready to go in a second, which we were. The stress our friends endure was terrible, but thank goodness they and their family were fine.
    I think the “firies” did a fantastic job, fighting the flames in dreadful conditions, and terrible terrain. Not an easy job and all praise to them all.
    It could have been so much worse. Kudos to all.

  9. For goodness sake, the fire “had the biggest impact in NZ history”! No-one gets a dress rehearsal to practice, not even the seniors in command. A learning point for everyone from the highest in command right down through the chain and to the rubber necking public. Surely, on this one, nobody can be criticised for getting it wrong? We will all learn from this. Top marks for absolutely everyone involved. You little beauties, thank you.

  10. Thank you Anna, Star.Kiwi and your readers and followers for this positive encouragement. I have suggested that all personnel involved in the response teams read this and the subsequent commentary. It goes a long way to sustain the commitment and morale of all those involved, in the face of some harsh criticism. Much appreciated. John Mackie, Controller.

  11. It takes so much courage to persevere with extreme danger and you firefighters performed a fantastic job!!! We all should be thankful that you put your own lives at risk to conserve the lives of of others. Your brilliant effort is greatly appreciated, many thanks….