17 Feb 2017

Parliament united as Port Hills fires burn

From The House, 2:25 pm on 17 February 2017

Eleven homes have so far been reported destroyed by a fire which has scorched 2000 hectares on the Port Hills in Christchurch as it continues to burn into a fifth day.

The fire burns near Worsley Valley in the Port Hills in Christchurch on Thursday 16 February.

The fire burns near Worsley Valley in the Port Hills in Christchurch on Thursday 16 February. Photo: Supplied / Richard Vance

More than 1000 people have been evacuated since the fire began on Monday 13th of February and a state of emergency declared.

In the House on Thursday, National's Amy Adams sought leave to move a motion without notice (on behalf of the Minister of Civil Defence) on the fires in Christchurch and Selwyn, to which there was no objection.

Firefighters try to save a house on the Port Hills.

Firefighters try to save a house on the Port Hills. Photo: Christchurch City Council

She said the government stands committed and ready to provide whatever resources are needed and paid tribute to the family of the helicopter pilot and decorated SAS soldier David Steven Askin who died in a helicopter crash while helping fight the fires.

Amy Adams. 6 December 2016.

The National Party's Amy Adams. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"Mr Askin gave outstanding service to his country over his life, and I know that he will be greatly missed," she said.

"I also want to acknowledge the front-line crews of emergency services, who are doing an outstanding job as they work to contain the fire and protect public property in difficult conditions, and, of course, the many volunteers who are supporting them"

Labour's deputy leader Annette King added her party's support.

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Annette King.

The Labour Party's Annette King Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"I too want to thank the emergency services who are bravely fighting the fire," she said.

"We know that they will be increasingly becoming stressed and tired themselves and they deserve all the support and encouragement that we can give them."

The Green Party also offered its sympathy.

"It is obviously tremendously frightening for residents to watch the glow of the fire on the hills at the night and to see those brave people in helicopters disappearing into the huge plumes of smoke to subdue the flames," said its co-leader James Shaw who also thanked the media for their efforts.

The Green Party co-leader James Shaw debates the Prime Minister's Statement and delivers the party's main focus for this year's election campaign.

Co-leader of the Green Party James Shaw. Photo: Supplied / The Office of the Clerk

New Zealand First's Ron Mark endorsed the comments made by the other parties and shared a conversation he had with a veteran firefighter about the fires.

"This is something that they have never seen... and he has been a veteran of Australian bushfires, a veteran urban search and rescue firefighter who has operated internationally," said Mr Mark.

"He said that in the 38 years he has served, he has never seen anything like this."

As a military veteran, Mr Mark also paid tribute to NZ Army veteran Corporal David Steven Askin by reading a poem.

NZ First MP, Ron Mark.

New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

More support for the motion came from the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell.

Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell. Photo: Supplied / The Office of the Clerk

United Future's Peter Dunne also shared information from the fire service to give context about the fire the likes of which are normally seen in Australia.  

Peter Dunne giving his 2015 Budget speech.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"The area of the fire now is some 20 square kilometres. For those of you who know Christchurch, that is more than 12 times the area of Hagley Park, so this is a very large area," he said.

"The intensity and the size of the fire, I am advised, is, in its own way, restricting the number of firefighters who can be safely put on the ground."

A number of speakers noted on Thursday that while there would come a time to consider aspects of the response, now was not the time.

By Friday morning the Minister for Civil Defence had initiated that political discussion with a critique of his own department.

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