A photo essay of the Christchurch fires


Around 1800 hours on Monday evening New Zealand Time, a major fire started in scrub on the Port Hills, south of Christchurch. An hour later a second fire started in vegetation near the Summit Road around the top of the Port Hills. 50 hours later at 2000 hours on Wednesday, with no relief in sight, a local state of emergency declared in Christchurch City and Selwyn at least four homes have now been destroyed. I thought I would share some photos I have taken of the fires.

The larger of two fires that broke out on 13 February 2017, seen at about 0100 on 14 February 2017. R. Glennie

The night time photos were taken around 0100 on Tuesday morning when I went out with my father for a look down State Highway 75. At that time no houses had been destroyed and the fire covered about a hundred hectares (10,000m² to a hectare).

Police had cordoned off some roads to ensure that rubberneckers going out for a midnight gander could not get too close to the fires or hinder emergency services.

The frontline early on Tuesday morning. Some evacuations had happened, but these were more precautionary at that point in time. R. Glennie

On Tuesday 14 February, there were 8 fire appliances, numerous tankers, a Fire Service command unit and four helicopters fighting the blaze. Throughout the day the resources committed were progressively increased. At the end of Tuesday over 100 firefighters had been deployed, with army crews, a dozen helicopters, plus tankers and the command unit. One house was destroyed along with several sheds.

Unfortunately Tuesday was marred by tragedy with a helicopter pilot dying as he manoeuvred his machine over the fires.

The Summit Road fire, which in the early hours of Tuesday was still somewhat contained, can be seen in the distance.

The Summit Road fire, which in the early hours of Tuesday was still somewhat contained, can be seen in the distance. R. Glennie

As the sun came up on Wednesday, the smoke plume was somewhat diminished by a relatively calm night. But this would not last long as an easterly wind began to pick up. It quickly started moving both of the fires in directions not anticipated. The Summit Road fire began creeping down slope into Governors Bay, threatening many homes, whilst the larger fire broke through containment lines and began moving rapidly towards Westmorland, a suburb of Christchurch.

Rare pyrocumulus cloud can be seen forming above the smoke plume on Wednesday afternoon.

Rare pyrocumulus cloud can be seen forming above the smoke plume on Wednesday afternoon. R. Glennie

By early afternoon the suburb of Westmorland was in the line of fire. Smoke or flames had caused a power outage to 89,000 homes, and fire fighters were losing control of the tenuous situation. As the afternoon progressed, evacuations resumed, with hundreds being made to leave. By 1800 hours, 48 hours after the fire originally started, Christchurch was teetering on the brink of a State of Emergency, which was jointly declared by Christchurch City Council and Selwyn District Council at 1821. At the time of this blog, several homes had been destroyed and hundreds were being evacuated.

So, I ask you when you read this, to just spare a thought for the people of Christchurch. This is an unprecedented fire situation here, and control may not be restored until expected rain arrives on Friday.

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