Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Port Hills blaze recovery continues

Christchurch City Council has announced that work on the recovery of the Port Hills following the Valentine’s Day fire is now underway.

The Council and Fire and Emergency New Zealand staff has updated Councillors on the response and recovery to the blaze which covered 650 hectares of land.

At the height of the 14 February incident, there were more than 130 fire fighters on site, supported by 15 helicopters and two fixed wing aircraft.

FENZ set up an Incident Management Team at Worsley’s, and a Civil Defence Emergency Operations Centre was established in the Justice and Emergency Precinct, with 68 Council staff also redeployed into civil defence roles.

More than 50 volunteers worked across eight locations over five days and nights, helping with cordon management, patrols of evacuated areas, and running welfare centres.

To date the Council has spent around $916,000 on the response and recovery, which is expected to be met by existing budgets.

Recovery Manager, John Filsell said a key issue for the Council is to consider the environmental and ecological damage.

The immediate priority has been managing sediment run-off from the fire site, he said.

“The recovery began when the fire was still burning – it is something we start planning for in the immediate response. But we’re now in a position where we can incorporate the long term recovery into our day-to-day work,” said Mr Filsell.

He said a Port Hills Plan will be developed to consider the continuing environmental resilience of Council-owned public land – the fire area may be highlighted in a parallel stream of work.

Of the 650ha covered by the fire, 28ha is Council reserve with the rest of the land being private property.

“In the immediate aftermath of the fire, we completed archaeological and geotechnical assessments of the area, made sure roads and other lifeline infrastructure were back in place and have worked with landowners to reestablish fencing,” Mr Filsell said.

“One of our biggest projects has been reducing sediment run off from the fire grounds, which will help protect the investment we’ve made in the Cashmere and Te Kuru Basins and ultimately preventing contaminants entering the Ōpāwaho Heathcote River.”

The Council has worked closely with the Adventure Park to support it to put measures in place to reduce the impact of sediment run off, including cut-off drains and gravelling key fire breaks at the Park, removing slash and sediment from Cashmere Stream within its boundaries so water is free flowing.

The Council has also removed sediment and doubled the size of a first-flush basin near the Park, removed sediment from ponds at the Te Kuru Basin in Hoon Hay and trialling mussel-shell bunds which will help reduce contaminants entering the river.

“We had the benefit of lessons learnt from the 2017 Port Hills fire, so we put that into practice, declaring a state of emergency promptly, and followed up with a strong and multi-agency response,” Mr Filsell said.

District Commander, Dave Stackhouse said FENZ has also launched a number of long term recovery and fire prevention initiatives.

“Since the fire, we’ve been collaborating with the Council and local iwi on low flammability planting on the Port Hills which would slow down the fire in a future event and have been providing advice to residents on how to reduce fuel sources around their properties,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the fire could have been a lot worse if the response wasn’t as good as it was.  We want to continue that through the long term planning and recovery.”

Christchurch Mayor, Phil Mauger said the update highlighted how well the agencies collaborated during the fire and continue to do so.

“We owe a massive debt of gratitude to every single person who worked hard on the response to this event, that includes all of the different agencies and the community.”  

A close-out report on the Port Hills fire response and recovery is being completed and will be presented to the Council.

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