PM thanks firefighting 'heroes' on the Port Hills; marks quake anniversary

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has thanked the “heroes” battling the Port Hills fire - some of whom were also first on the scene when the 6.3 magnitude quake hit Christchurch 13 years ago.

The wildfire tore through hundreds of hectares of forest and scrub last week on the Port Hills, and fire crews have continued to dampen the hot spots on Thursday.

After speaking and meeting with locals and emergency services on the ground, Luxon thanked the firefighters, police, first responders, local councils, contractors and volunteers who have worked to get the blaze under control and support efforts.

"Seven years ago, almost to the day, a similar event happened, and the response you've seen over the last week and a bit has been absolutely fantastic.

"We have seen the absolute best of New Zealand here over the last week.

"I think for the community and for the citizens who have been impacted, who had some reservations in fairness after the 2017 response [to the Port Hills fire], to see the quality of the response and see how it's improved in seven years is pretty special and unique."

He thanked residents for their patience and support for emergency services.

"I hope the community feels incredibly proud and grateful for the firefighters and all the first responders and all the support teams that have been part of this effort. It's been phenomenal.

"You have been a great inspiration and I think we have some true heroes that are here as well, and we really appreciate them."

Luxon also acknowledged the 13th anniversary of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake, which struck the city on February 22, 2011, and left much of the CBD and many suburbs in ruins.

"There are actually people who have been here, fighting this fire, that were also at the earthquake.

"And I'm here with Vanessa Weenink who is actually the MP for Banks Peninsula and was actually one of the doctors on the day in Christchurch at the PGC building.

"So we've got people who have been at every major crisis that we've had in this town and they've done an exceptionally good job.

"I think in New Zealand we should actually take time to say this has been excellence, this has been truly world-class, this is us at our best and we should be really proud, and esteemed, and grateful and be thankful for these people who have done an exceptional job."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon visiting the Port Hills on Thursday morning. Photo: George Heard
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon visiting the Port Hills on Thursday morning. Photo: George Heard
Despite the hardships in the city, Luxon believed his hometown had a great future.

"I know what people have been through at an individual level, having had friends and family impacted as well.

"I've seen people wrestle with that and deal with all the triumphs and setbacks associated with the journey.

"But here we stand in 2024, I'm incredibly optimistic about the future of this great city.

"And I think if you want to set up family life anywhere in in this country, as I keep saying to a lot of my British friends and encouraging them to move to New Zealand, come to Christchurch because you've got everything you need and nothing you don't."

Asked if the landowners where the fire started should pay for part of the firefighting bill, he said he did not believe that should be the case.

"Obviously we've got good funding in place for Fenz and other support services and that's what we've got to do in central government. Our job is to make sure central agencies have what they need."

On Christchurch Adventure Park, he said the government did help them out with a kickstart previously.

"They opened the park, they got hit with the first fire, they then got going again, they got hit with Covid and the tourism downturn, just got started again and tourists and numbers are good at the adventure park and got hit with the fire [last week].

"The good news is they're going to be open at Easter and I said I'd love to come back and be there for that opening or around that time as well."

He said tourism operators were resilient and he wished them well but financial support was not a conversation he had with the adventure park.

Decisions around types of plantings, such as more fire-resistant native trees, would have to go back to councils, he said.

"But again, as you know, the nature of Canterbury is it has very high, hot dry summers and a big part of the landscape is unavoidable.

"I'm sure there'll be an after-action review, we will learn some further things from it but I think we should be really proud of the progress in seven years."

They had been discussing improvements to emergency management too, he said.

"We've just got to keep making sure we improve and upgrade our responses from all these events we've been learning from."


Christopher Luxon meets with emergency services and locals on the Port Hills. Photo: RNZ / Nathan...
Christopher Luxon meets with emergency services and locals on the Port Hills. Photo: RNZ / Nathan Mckinnon
The cause of the blaze is still being investigated, with police speaking to two people seen walking in the area on Wednesday afternoon last week.

Last night Christchurch and the Selwyn district transitioned from a state of emergency to a “recovery phase”, as firefighting efforts continue to dampen 20 existing hotspots.

More than 100 houses were evacuated and a container home was burnt out, after the fire covered more than 650ha.

Fire and Emergency NZ (Fenz) said firefighters will be working to extinguish 20 hotspots on the ground today.

“Drone crews have identified the hotspots overnight, with 11 crews now tasked with eliminating them today,” Fenz said.

“A total of 36 personnel, including Incident Management Team staff, will be working at the fire today.”

Christopher Luxon meets with emergency services on Port Hills. Photo: RNZ / Nathan Mckinnon
Christopher Luxon meets with emergency services on Port Hills. Photo: RNZ / Nathan Mckinnon
Drones would be used to find hotspots again overnight.

The Herald earlier revealed residents near Hoon Hay Valley Rd saw two people around a walking track on the hill followed by smoke.

The pair then drove off, with residents taking photos of the car and sending them to the police.

A police spokesperson confirmed to the Herald that police had spoken to those people, as well as the ones in the car.

By Rachel Maher and Pierre Nixon