Houses could have been saved from fire: union

Career firefighters were told to go home at the start of the blaze. Photo: File
Career firefighters were told to go home at the start of the blaze. Photo: File

Ten of the eleven houses destroyed in the Port Hills fire could have been saved had career firefighters not been sent home at the start of the blaze, union bosses say.

Derek Best of the NZ Professional Firefighters Union said he was told by career firefighters they were told to go home by Rural Fire officials after helping contain the fire on Monday night.

``Initially there was a response by our people to the incident, and then they were told you're not really needed any more go home go back to the station,'' Mr Best said.

An hour and a half later fire crews were called back to the scene as the fire had spread again.

``It really upset them,'' Mr Best said.

``They were unable to deploy and they could see the flames from the station and they weren't able to go back.''

He said career firefighters did not a leave a scene until a fire was out, whereas Rural Fire officials worked to contain a fire but not necessarily put it out.

``Our people had contained the fire and were told to go back to the station and as soon as they did that the fire got away again.

``Ninety minutes later they were called back instead of coming back to a contained fire, which is what they left, they came back to an inferno,'' he said.

``They had to start all over again.''

He said career firefighters had told him with confidence they think 10 of the 11 homes destroyed in the days since could have been saved if they had stayed on the first night to totally extinguish the flames.

``What our people are telling us is if they'd been fully deployed we wouldn't have lost any houses. That's their best estimate based on experience.''

Best was calling for an independent inquiry into what had happened, saying there were questions about who should have been in command and whether lines of command were clear as the incident unfolded.

``It's got to be looked at properly,'' he said.

``You can't deal with this in any other way than having a whole independent inquiry.''

Selwyn Rural Fire officials are being sought for comment.

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