Follow all the latest developments on the Port Hills fire here.
AT A GLANCE:
- Some residents are now allowed to return to their homes
- Light rain is failing bringing welcome relief to the crews fighting the Port Hills fire.
- Eleven houses and two sheds have been destroyed.
- The fire is contained within 2075 hectares.
- More than 130 firefighters worked on the ground fighting the Port Hills fire yesterday.
- A state of emergency has been declared in Christchurch and Selwyn.
- Around 450 houses have been evacuated.
- One person has been killed fighting the fires - chopper pilot and ex-SAS solider Steve Askin.
- Dozens of homes remain without power.
- The blaze started as two separate fires on Monday.
7.45pm: Experienced firefighters were sent home at a crucial point in the Christchurch fire response, causing the loss of 10 homes, their union says.
New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union Secretary Derek Best on Friday called for an independent inquiry.
He told media firefighters were sent home for 90 minutes on Monday after they had contained but not extinguished the fire.
Just an hour and a half later they called back to the scene, but it was too late.
"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," Best told the Otago Daily Times.
"Ninety minutes later they were call back instead of coming back to a contained fire, which is what they left, they came back to an inferno."
Meanwhile, families displaced by fires are slowly returning as a drizzle falls and as the firefighters' union asks why professional firefighters were called off the fire when it first started.
The police are investigating the fire, which started in two places at about the same time on Monday, but won't say it's suspicious, even though Prime Minister Bill English has speculated it might be.
The fire has destroyed 11 homes and ripped through more than 2000 hectares of scrub and forest and is largely contained.
"The fire area is not expanding and firefighters have made great progress in putting in fire breaks around the perimeter of the fire area," Civil Defence said.
7pm: A group of Port Hills heroes have risked their own lives driving through flames in an effort to check on their mate's house.
Springing into action, Nicholson, a member of the local community fire group, quickly grabbed his son and other neighbour before jumping in the ute and driving toward the flames in an effort to help.
"We drove for a few seconds there with flames enveloping the ute - it was far more advanced than I gave it credit for," Mr Nicholson said.
The trio arrived at their neighbour's property and pumped 500 litres of firefighting foam and water around the property to protect it.
"We were doing quite well until we got told to go ... which annoyed the hell out of us, because we sort of know what we're doing," he said.
3.50pm: A number of Port Hills residents have returned to their homes this afternoon, with many greeted by a sight of ash and rubble.
Eleven homes were destroyed and many others damaged following the fire as residents come to grips with the reality of the inferno.
Resident Simon Grace's family home of 20 years was burned to the ground, and he told NZME nothing is salvageable.
"It's not easy. It's not till you see the extent of it with your own eyes that it really hits you."
However, firefighters have been praised after doing a remarkable job to save more more homes from succumbing to the blaze.
"It was very fast moving and unpredictable, but it's great that we could help save some of these properties," Christchurch city senior station officer Mark Elstone said.
2.30pm: Families sent fleeing from their homes by fires in Port Hills are being let back in as firefighters try to control the precariously contained blaze amid worsening weather.
Civil Defence announced one of the cordons around the fire-damaged area had been lifted at 1pm on Friday, allowing residents of Cashmere Road and Penruddock Rise to return to their homes.
"All other cordons remained in place while the situation was assessed," it said.
"We hope to announce the lifting of some further cordons early this afternoon."
1.12pm: Evacuated Christchurch residents have voiced their frustration over the mixed messages they've received from Civil Defence about when the cordon will be lifted.
One resident told 1 NEWS he was allowed up to his house earlier this morning and asked if he could leave to pick up his wife and cat and then return, and was told yes.
However when they returned they weren't allowed back up.
Some residents have also vented on the Christchurch Civil Defence Emergency Management Facebook page.
David Mckinnon wrote: "What's that feeling, when you're currently evacuated with a pet for the third day and just want to know if you can go home and the information available to you is fragmented."
11.35am: Update from Christchurch City Council:
Civil Defence is working on getting a process underway to help evacuated residents return to their homes where it is safe for them to do so.
The fire at this stage is largely contained but not yet controlled. Planning is underway to reduce the cordoned area around the perimeter of the fire, and a decision on which cordons will be lifted is expected early this afternoon.
A risk assessment is being done from the ground and in the air. Although there was drizzle this morning, wind is expected to increase this afternoon and any dampness will be dried out. There is still extreme heat in the ground and dry vegetation which poses a risk of flare ups, especially with forecast north-east winds of up to 50 km/h today.
The fire area is not expanding and firefighters have made great progress in putting in fire breaks around the perimeter of the fire area.
Today there are diggers working in several areas to create fire breaks. In those areas that diggers can’t access the focus is on dropping fire retardant to stop the spread of the fire.
Overall emergency services are starting to move from air-based to ground-based firefighting.
Water drops will not put the fire out completely so it has to be backed up with the heavy machinery to put fire breaks in and dig out hot spots. Diggers are working at several locations, along with 15 helicopters and three fixed wing aircraft.
Police cordons are still in place and these areas are still considered dangerous. The situation is being constantly reassessed and Civil Defence will provide further information as soon as it is available. People are encouraged to monitor Civil Defence (external link) and Council web and social media channels (external link) for the latest updates.
10.49am:' Cordons remain in place. But it is understood they will be reviewed today.
10.25am: More on the response:
Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has flagged changes to Civil Defence laws so states of emergency can be declared earlier following natural disasters.
Mr Brownlee has been critical of the time it took to declare a local state of emergency during Christchurch's Port Hills fires this week.
On Friday morning, he issued a statement saying the fires, and also the Kaikoura earthquake, highlighted the need to streamline the legislation, despite changes being made last year.
[img:https://s.yimg.com/dh/ap/default/170215/bs1.jpg|caption=Photo courtesy: Brent Smith|size=O]]
He stressed he wasn't criticising those on the ground in both Christchurch City and Selwyn District and no minister had ever declared a local state of emergency over the top of local authorities.
"It's the way information is reported up the chain and the time it can take to access up-to-date information that has been of most concern for me.
"Clarifying and simplifying the chain of command will help ensure clear lines of communication and effective decision-making in the immediate aftermath of significant events.
"In a country so prone to natural disasters, it's in everyone's best interests to ensure we are as resilient and ready to respond as we can be," Mr Brownlee said.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the Civil Defence regime would not have made a difference in terms of access to resources for firefighters.
"I could have [declared an emergency earlier]. I wasn't receiving advice to do so," she told RNZ.
"And if any of those people working in the region management team had wanted resources available under the Civil Defence Act they would have advised the mayor of Selwyn and me," she said.
10.15am: The latest from KiwiRail:
Scaffolding has been put in place on the most severely damaged bridge on the Christchurch-Greymouth line between Cass and Springfield as work to reopen the line gathers pace.
“Work is progressing well and we are working hard to achieve the early April re-opening date,” says KiwiRail Group General Manager Network Services Todd Moyle.
The line is used for the renowned TranzAlpine passenger service, and also for coal and dairy freight services.
“Our biggest challenge is bridge 25 at Truscotts Creek, which was heavily damaged in the fires. The scaffolding has been completed on the piers, which is a great accomplishment. It means we can now start repairing the bridge and get the biggest job out of the way.
“A 22-tonne excavator and bulldozer is now on site, and that has helped significantly in building a platform for a crane that will be used in the rebuild.
“Yesterday our team completed work on two other bridges so that we can use them to transport equipment to other critical sites that need work.
“It’s been a momentous effort by our crews, who are working from Christchurch and Greymouth.
“Others will be coming from Invercargill and Tauranga to tackle the reinstatement of the line as quickly as possible.”
KiwiRail is also using this opportunity to undertake inspections and maintenance, including bridge re-sleepering and asset maintenance.
The stretch of track was closed after a 300 hectare fire swept through the remote area recently. The fire damaged bridges, track and signal systems.
10.10am: Today's weather conditions for the Port Hills fire sees thickening cloud, high humidity and a few light showers about.
9.15am: Civil defence controller John Mackie has responded to the criticism regarding the emergency response.
“We’re really focussing on getting this thing dealt with. The structures and the systems we currently have in place, they may not be ideal but there’s a lot of people working hard out there.
“Criticism doesn’t help engagement of those volunteers who have put in huge hours in the last four-five days and it’s not their day job," he told Fairfax.
He said they was "nothing definite" on the cause of the fires.
9am: Helicopters have returned to the air to fight the fire over the Port Hills this morning.
8.50am: Civil Defence told Fairfax 15 tonnes of flame retardant will arrive on Friday afternoon to help extinguish a fire “beyond anything we’ve ever had to deal with”.
8.37am: Canterbury District Health Board confirms to 1 NEWS that three people have received hospital treatment because of the fire and have since been discharged.
8.24am: Fairfax says he food department at Burnside High School will be making about 300 scones today to deliver to the Fire Service.
8.07am: Christchurch City Council says slightly cooler weather conditions and a higher humidity with some light rain having fallen early this morning is welcome relief for emergency services fighting the Port Hills fire in Christchurch.
It has been a quiet night with a few minor flare ups contained by fire crews. Thermal imaging is being used to identify hot spots.
There is a lot of work to do to clean up the whole fire area and this will go on for several days, the Council said.
Key points from the CCC:
- Te Hapua Welfare Centre remains open with a small amount of people staying there. Nga Hau E Wha Marae and the Selwyn welfare centre have been closed.
- Police cordons are still in place and these areas are still considered dangerous. The situation is being constantly reassessed and we will provide further information as soon as it is available.
- Fifteen crew from the United States Coast Guard heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star are assisting police and the New Zealand Defence Force in the evacuated areas.
- A Defence Force Hercules is expected to arrive in Christchurch from Australia today with fire retardant.
- Fifteen crew from the United States Coast Guard heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star are assisting police and the New Zealand Defence Force in the evacuated areas. Defence Force Hercules is expected to arrive in Christchurch on Friday from Australia with fire retardant.
- A detachable fire pod is being shipped from Wellington, in addition to the four NZDF fire pods currently being used to fight the Christchurch fires. The pods can be transported on a variety of vehicles and use an ultra high-pressure hose with a pointed nozzle that can pierce the ground and douse burning roots.
Christchurch Civil Defence controller Dave Adamson said emergency services recognise that many of the residents evacuated are concerned about the condition of their properties in the fire zone and are anxious to return home. At this stage the Emergency Operations Centre has received no information about the status of individual homes.
8.03am: Have your say on the Yahoo New Zealand Facebook page.
7.30am: Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee told TVNZ's Breakfast today that he disagrees with Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel's claim that an earlier declaration of a state of emergency would not have made any difference to the fire-fighting effort.
"The fire raged for two and a half days before being called on the third day," Mr Brownlee said,
"Let's learn from Kaikoura (earthquake) and this experience and have a very simple line of communication and control for future situations," he said.
Yesterday he revealed that he had received more detailed information of the fire from the media.
7.09am: Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee this morning called for a review of Civil Defence.
Mr Brownlee said a state of emergency should have been declared earlier and says Civil Defence legislation needs to be streamlined.
7.02am: Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel told TVNZ's Breakfast this morning she believes she will be held to account over whether or not she should have declared a state of emergency earlier.
"I will be held accountable for the decision I made today."
However, she does not believe declaring a state of emergency earlier would have made any difference to the fire-fighting effort.
7am: Cashmere Primary School will remain closed today.
6.51am: Civil Defence has been receiving inquiries from residents who have been evacuated about when they will be able to return to their homes.
"People are encouraged to monitor Civil Defence and Council website and social media channels for the latest updates. As soon as any information is available about when people can return Civil Defence will ensure that it is widely publicised."
Yahoo New Zealand will bring you the latest developments on this live blog.
6.49am: The Defence Force Hercules is expected to arrive in Christchurch on Friday from Australia with fire retardant.
Another 31 police are also due to arrive in Christchurch on Friday.
6.36am: The latest on roads:
- Cashmere Rd is closed between Hendersons Rd and Kaiwara St
- Penruddock Rise is closed at Cashmere Rd
- Worsleys Rd is closed at Cashmere Rd
- Hoon Hay Valley Rd is closed at Cashmere Rd
- Kennedys Bush Road is closed at Cashmere Rd
- Sutherland Road is closed at Cashmere Rd
- Worsleys Track from Worlseys Road is closed
- Dyers Pass Road is closed between Hackthorne Road to Governors Bay Road. Use the Lyttelton Tunnel or Gebbies Pass as the alternate route.
- Summit Road is closed between Gebbies Pass and Rapaki Track
- Old Tai Tapu Road is closed between Osterholts Road and Early Valley Road.
- Early Valley Road is closed at Old Tai Tapu Rd.
6.30am: Power remains cut to 174 households, electricity provider Orion says.
6.21am: THIS MORNING'S WRAP: Light rain has fallen in Christchurch overnight, boosting firefighters' efforts to control the massive Port Hills fire which has destroyed houses and spread over more than 2000ha.
"It's been a really good night. We had some light rain, it felt like Christmas," Fire Service southern communications shift manager Riwai Grace said on Friday morning.
"It wasn't much but still, it's a lovely feeling."
At least 11 homes have been destroyed in the Port Hills blaze, which started as two fires on Monday night and forced the evacuation of around 450 homes - sending more than 1000 people to alternative accommodation.
Changing winds have fanned the flames and a local state of emergency was declared when the scale of the disaster was realised.
On Thursday night there were a couple of flare ups "but nothing too serious", Mr Grace said.
Extra police on the ground meant they were spotted quickly and firefighters were able to quell them.
"To be honest I don't think it's gone far during the night, but we won't know until the helicopters have gone up," Mr Grace said.
The MetService is forecasting occasional drizzle for Friday with maybe 2.6mm falling.
Christchurch Civil Defence controller Dave Adamson says nearly 400 firefighters worked on the fire during Thursday, some using heavy machinery to create fire breaks.
Some areas had been burning out of control, but the fire was contained within the 2075 hectare area.
The total number of properties affected won't be known until the emergency has ended.
"We're working with other agencies to arrange for this information to be passed on to home owners in the affected areas as soon as the information becomes available."
6.15am: Firefighters used thermal-imaging technology and high-pressure hoses to manage hotspots within the Port Hills fire overnight.
6.10am: "We feel a lot better at 4am today than we did at 4am yesterday," Fire Service spokesman Riwai Grace told Fairfax this morning.
6.02am: Residents have taken to Twitter to share the relief about the rain.
6.00am: Good news this morning - there has been light rainfall overnight to give firefighters a helping hand.
Here's a brilliant timelapse, shared on social media, of the smoke rising from Port Hills yesterday: