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Port Hills fire: 'There's just a couple of bricks left'

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 17/02/2017

Simon Grace at the remains of his home with his brother. © RNZ / Sharon Brettkelly Simon Grace at the remains of his home with his brother. A man forced to flee his home in Christchurch's fire-ravaged Port Hills saw the devastated remains for the first time this afternoon.

Fire scorched more than 2000 hectares on the Port Hills in Christchurch this week, with the blaze finally contained today. Eleven homes have been destroyed and more than 1000 people were evacuated.

Several cordons were lifted today, enabling residents to return to their homes.

But in harder-hit places like Worsleys Road, homeowners were only allowed back briefly, escorted by police or fire officers.

Many told RNZ they were angry at the Civil Defence's handling of the emergency.

Simon Grace said he was devastated as he surveyed the ruins of his family home on Worsleys Road, while firefighters hosed down the smouldering remains.

"There's just a couple of bricks left, there's nothing. We've been here 20 years, so there's a lot of stuff here, had a lot of good times here and it's a shame just to see it all turned to dust."

All that was saved were a box of photos and a car, he said.

Mr Grace was critical of the Civil Defence's poor communication.

"Up until now its been so frustrating, we've been given absolutely no information about what's going on. Even just today to get here has been a massive fight," Mr Grace said.

Wade Ruebe at his Worsleys Rd home. © RNZ / Sharon Brettkelly Wade Ruebe at his Worsleys Rd home. He had spent hours with other residents at the cordon at the bottom of Worsleys Road, waiting to be allowed home.

When media were allowed past the cordon for the first time this afternoon, they argued homeowners should go too.

Wade Ruebe was one of those residents who saw his house for the first time this afternoon, while helicopters flew in to scoop up water from his neighbour's pool.

"There's been fire on all sides of it, we've lost the garage but the house is fine," Mr Ruebe said. "It doesn't look like the heat's touched it, they've kicked in a door to check on us, they've boarded it up again though.

"I can't see smoke damage in there, the chicken coop's gone but the chickens are all still here. We've just been incredibly lucky. It's done a ring around our house. I think the neighbour's pool's probably saved us just having that water nearby. Just walking around it, it's unbelievable."

Other homeowners still waiting to get into their homes told RNZ that Civil Defence should have done a better job of communicating with them.

"It's horrible," Anna Pettersen said. "My husband rang Civil Defence yesterday trying to get information and they said we' can't give you any information. Prepare for smoke damage, that's all we can tell you'."

Civil Defence controller John Mackie said they could have done better but it was a complex operation.

"We've never seen anything of the likes of a two thousand hectare fire within an urban and rural environment. So very complex, different parts of legislation. We've had regular meetings with the multiple agencies and try and get a co ordinated message that we all agree to," Mr Mackie said.

Misty rain fell in Christchurch today and firefighters said the fire was contained, but Mr Mackie said the fire danger was not over.

Further cordons were lifted in the Port Hills area this evening. Cordons along Cashmere Road have been removed where it intersected with Shalamar Drive, Worsleys Road, Opihi Street, Hendersons Road and Sutherlands Road

Hoon Hay Valley Road remained closed to the public, as did the uphill section of Kennedys Bush Road.

There are still cordons in place in the following areas: beyond 327 Worsleys Road, Dyers Pass Road at Hackthorne lower and upper intersections, Dyers Pass Road at Governor's Bay Road, Summit Road and Gebbies Pass Road.

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