Porters Pass repairs to take weeks following fire

Heat from the fire left more than 200m of guardrails on Porters Pass buckled and lying on the road edge after the support posts were burned out in several sections. Photo: NZ Transport Agency
Heat from the fire left more than 200m of guardrails on Porters Pass buckled and lying on the road edge after the support posts were burned out in several sections. Photo: NZ Transport Agency
The fire-damaged Porters Pass road will take weeks to fix and West Coast motorists were yesterday warned to expect delays in travelling to Christchurch on State highway 73.

The fire that ravaged 270ha of scrubland around the pass from early on Sunday morning had been extinguished by late Monday. At its peak 30 firefighters and three helicopters worked to contain the fire.

Heat from the fire left more than 200m of guardrails on Porters Pass buckled and lying on the road edge after the support posts were burned out in several sections.

As a result the New Zealand Transport Agency has 2.5km of highway down to single lane to keep vehicles away from the steep drop over the edge. This morning, traffic was being piloted through in stages.

NZTA southern media manager Frances Adank said they were worried about stability of the surrounding terrain along Porters Pass in light of predicted heavy rain later this week and following water sluicing from helicopter monsoon buckets used in the firefighting effort.

"It effectively acts like a sluice on the slopes ... It should be okay but with this rain coming on we are monitoring it for rockfall. Everything has been loosened."

Gabion baskets placed to stabilise the road edge and hillsides were also being checked for fire damage.

An image of the fire taken from inside a blocked off part of SH73. Photo: Supplied Darryl McCabe via RNZ
An image of the fire taken from inside a blocked off part of SH73. Photo: Supplied Darryl McCabe via RNZ

Ms Adank said it would take at least several weeks to replace all the burned railings. About 200m needed to be replaced in sections, with work to begin later this week.

"It will be one lane through there while they replace those railings ... People should expect a slower than usual trip."

Initially about 5km of road was single-lane after reopening on Sunday evening, but by yesterday the restricted section had been halved, from the bottom of the pass to near the saddle.

Meanwhile, police believe the fire was linked to the attempted theft of an ATM cash machine at Darfield and a stolen car used in the heist earlier on Saturday morning.

Police were called to the NZ Post and Kiwibank premises in South Terrace, Darfield, about 7am on Sunday after the Westpac ATM had been dislodged from the wall about 3am. The front of the machine was later found dumped on Cridges Road, on the western outskirts of the town. No money was stolen.

Police believe a Nissan Mistral found down a bank off Porters Pass within the area the fire is believed to have started, was involved in the attempt to steal the cash machine.

The car had been stolen overnight on Saturday from Bankside, near Dunsandel.

Senior sergeant Brent Cook, of Greymouth, said police here were not aware at this stage of a possible West Coast link to the ATM theft and the abandoned stolen car, or whether the thieves had been heading this way.

- By Brendon McMahon

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