Christchurch fire halted as residents count losses

Cheryl Sanders
February 17, 2017

More than 1000 residents of Port Hills, an area near New Zealand's Christchurch city, were forced to evacuate their houses after a bushfire spread towards the residential area.

Fire services have been battling the blazes since Monday evening when two separate fires broke out.

A state of emergency has been declared in the city and neighbouring Selwyn District and the military has been deployed to help firefighters.

On Tuesday, a helicopter pilot died after his chopper crashed during the firefighting operation.

"They were in a gaggle they were in clipboard mode, they weren't fighting fires", he says. His formerly secret role in defense missions in Afghanistan were only revealed after his death.

"There's a whole lot of people here who have been traumatised by the events, some who have lost their homes, many have been evacuated", prime minister Bill English told reporters in Christchurch after cancelling all his engagements to fly to the South Island city.

He said authorities are looking at a national coordination effort to bring in more firefighting resources: "We're really struggling at the moment without the helicopters - it's too risky at night for those, we are trying to do any structure protection we can but that's got to be balanced between lives".

Fires of this intensity are rare for New Zealand. On social media, local residents have begun helping the people evacuated by offering them a place to stay.

"I could see that the smoke and the flames were being blown right up toward our house", he said. "And we had to go and tell our kids", she said.

The Civil Defence initially reported that 40 homes had been destroyed but later revised that number down to two or three. "And I just yelled 'Get out".

Twenty firefighters and 15 helicopters have been enlisted to help fight the blaze.

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