Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Christchurch Quake Memorial. Port Hills Fires

Fri-Sat 24-25.02.17. Two days after opening of Christchurch Quake Memorial, remembering 185 people killed by the 22.02.11 quake, Leah had lectured at Seabrook Mackenzie Centre, London St. A Civil Defence state of emergency still went on due to mostly extinguished fires on the Port Hills. The Port Hills fires had raged for days, causing a firefighter helicopter crash (ex SAS soldier / pilot dead) razing 9 houses & endangering many others. Residents of several endangered streets on the Port Hills were evacuated. Port Hills were fire blackened from Dyers Pass SW towards Coopers Knobs. After 3 years of quakes, 2010-2013, it was the second disaster hitting Christchurch in 6 years.

Friday, while Leah lectured, I looked at the new Quake Memorial off Oxford Tce by Avon River S bank. The Memorial consisted of 3 black, stone steps on the riverbank below a curved, white, marble wall below Oxford Tce. Names of the 185 dead were carved on the marble wall. I mingled in a crowd looking at the Quake Memorial. Access from the E side of the wall was a stone ramp for wheelchairs beside stainless steel banisters & balustrade. W side access, off Montreal St Bridge cnr, was stone steps & stainless steel banisters.

Amongst 8 stone & wooden benches, 6 maple saplings were planted on the top step below the wall. Below the E ramp & W steps, were young native plantings, like kahikatea, tussock grasses, astelias & hebes, also exotic plantings, like young camellias & rhododendrons.

Wreaths of flowers had been placed on the steps below the marble wall by families of the dead & dignitaries at the 22.02.11 Memorial Service. Bereaved had come from all over the world for the opening of the Quake Memorial, as many overseas people had died in the quake, like Japan's Toyama School students,

Wreaths & sympathy messages were still there when I visited: Governor General Reddy, NZ National govt Speaker Carter, NZ National PM English, Mayor Dalziel, Labour opposition leader Little & many wreaths by embassies & organisations involved & affected: Toyama School, USAR, LANDSAR, NZ Fire Service, St John, NZ Red Cross, NZDF, NZ Police, Civil Defence, Green Party, Ngai Tahu, US Embassy, Turkey Embassy, Malaysia Embassy, Japanese Embassy, Korea Embassy, Philippines Embassy, Samoan Embassy, Chinese Embassy, Ireland Embassy, Canada Embassy, ...

After Leah finished lecturing on Friday I took her to the Quake Memorial for another look. On the pavement above the Quake Memorial ramp, a big, brown, pounamu stone lay on a plinth, fountain water flowing over the jade.

Saturday, I looked at Port Hills fire damage. Fires had started on the Port Hills on Feb 13. Slow Civil Defence declared a state of emergency on Feb 15.

From the top of Bengal St, I viewed blackened Sugar Loaf Hill above & below Dyers Pass. Marleys Hill was completely blackened except for green trees on top. The valley below Dyers Pass & Marleys Hill was blackened from top to bottom.

Near the end of Shalamar Dr, a fire warning sign stopped me driving to the end of the road. Similar view as above, but showing valley houses weren't destroyed, as firefighters had stopped fires encroaching farmland on the valley floor.

Worsleys Rd: At the valley bottom, a St John ambulance was parked by a Civil Defence tent with CD bods strutting about in orange, Hi Vis vests. I drove up Worsleys Rd, but before fire endangered housing near the top I was turned back by a CD road block & two clip boarded, CD bods in orange, Hi Vis vests. Having survived 3 years of 15 000 quakes & multitudes of NZDF soldiers at roadblocks & obstructive CD, cop, Council, CERA, SCIRT bods in orange or yellow, Hi Vis vests, I vowed: "The next useless, CD bod who stops me can go to hell!"

I drove to the top of Westmoreland Hts, parked my car & climbed through a new CD fence with a fire warning sign attached it. On the grassy hilltop, I had good views of fire endangered housing at the end of Worsleys Rd & fire blackened Port Hills, including Sugarloaf, Dyers Pass, Marleys Hill, Hoon Hay Valley, Cass Peak. The hillsides were fire blackened to ashes & fire blackened stumps, but valley farms & housing were saved by firefighters.

Some housing at the end of Worsleys Rd was bordered by scorched earth & razed trees, Firefighters on the ground & helicopters carrying monsoon buckets had had their work cut saving those fire ringed houses.

In the distance where a forest once grew, I saw a smoke cloud & a digger quelling a hotspot, amidst scorched stumps & ashes. A brown helicopter circled above.

I drove along Cashmere Rd to Hoon Hay Rd where a clip boarded, orange, Hi Vis vested, CD bod stopped cars at a road block. I drove further along Cashmere Rd to take pics of Hoon Hay Valley & the fire damage on Port Hills above. Hoon Hay Valley farms & housing were OK, but Port Hills above were fire scorched, blackened. Several walkers, bikers & joggers passed while I watched the CD bod road blocking public at Hoon Hay Rd.

I drove past Halswell Quarry Reserve to Kennedys Bush Rd. Both Reserve entrances were road blocked by clip boarded, orange, Hi Vis vested, CD bods. Public banned. Parked on Reserve grass were 2 NZ Fire Service helicopters. During my drive, I'd watched one of the helicopters circling Port Hills, looking for hot spots.

End of Kennedys Bush Rd: I parked my car & wandered to a clip boarded, orange, Hi Vis vested, CD bod's road block, while other cars & bikes about-turned.

CD bod: "No pedestrians! No rubberneckers! Only residents allowed!"

Me: "I've been here many times before. I'm doing no harm. I've come all the way from Timaru. I want to see what I've watched on TV news all week. I'm taking photographs to show Timaru people!"

CD bod: "Phew!" I wandered past him to the end of Quarry Hill housing, which I'd seen develop over many years, while Luke had piano lessons with a SA expat down Kennedys Bush Rd. Over the years, I'd walked Kennedys Bush area to Hoon Hay Valley & up to Summit Rd & Cass Peak.

Port Hills fires had almost reached Kennedys Bush Rd housing, the reservoir above housing bordered by scorched trees & fire blackened hillsides. A swathe of lilac, fire retardant had been flown in, covering unburnt grass between the reservoir & housing. Port Hills further west were fire blackened towards Coopers Knobs. I thought Port Hills, Governors Bay side, would be fire blackened too. During my Kennedys Bush Rd inspection, a brown helicopter clattered above, then landed at Halswell Quarry Reserve.

The Port Hills fires, state of emergency was only lifted a week later. Orange, Hi Vis vested, CD bods took their time declaring a fire state of emergency, then buggered public around for two weeks. The excuse: hot spots had to be stopped.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

See Port Hills Fires