‘We can only do so much’

Surrounded by devastation, a helicopter fighting the Port Hills fire in Christchurch this week...
Surrounded by devastation, a helicopter fighting the Port Hills fire in Christchurch this week fills a monsoon bucket from a swimming pool in Worsleys Rd. Photos: supplied.
A Dunedin helicopter pilot says he has battled "very challenging conditions" and the difficulty of seeing the wreckage of a crashed helicopter every time he fills up while fighting the Port Hills fire.

David Gale, of Helicopters Otago, has spent the past four days fighting the huge fire which broke out on Christchurch’s Port Hills on Monday.

While he had fought similar fires during his 17-year career. that did not make the job easy.

Helicopter Otago pilot David Gale.
Helicopter Otago pilot David Gale.
"We’ve all tried pretty hard, but we can only do so much when the smoke and heat doesn’t allow us to get close."

The difficult conditions had been exacerbated by the number of powerlines in the area and helicopters in the air, he said.

"With multiple aircraft out, we’ve been talking with each other and working in groups so circuits do not cross."

He had been reminded of the risk of the operation following the death of pilot Steven Askin. who was killed  after crashing his helicopter while fighting the blaze on Tuesday.

"I didn’t know him personally but I met him that morning. It is a bit gut-wrenching to go to the water hole to fill up and seeing his wreckage."

He had been able to save some homes from the flames. However, losing the fight to save one stuck in his mind.

"I had one part of it controlled and I thought I could save it. The smoke was an issue.

"I thought I’d saved it but then I could see the surface of the rafters melting and I couldn’t do anything."

He intended to assist the Garden City Helicopter crew until the Fire Service advised him help was no longer needed.

Yesterday,  he believed parts of the fire had been controlled. However, that did not mark the end of the ordeal for many.

"I really feel for them. They have lost their buildings. It’s a bit unbelievable, really."


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