Port Hills fire brings back quake nerves

7:22 pm on 17 February 2017
The fire burns near Worsley Valley in the Port Hills in Christchurch on Thursday 16 February.

The smoke can be seen from almost everywhere in Christchurch Photo: Supplied / Richard Vance

There's fire in the hills and it's completely unnerving.

Oh Christchurch, you poor sod, you genuine hot mess.

The city is experiencing flames this time rather than earthquakes but once again we find ourselves in another official state of emergency.

Sinking feelings are hard to keep weighted down when you bounce from one disaster to another before the previous one has been completely rectified.

To be clear, I am far from the trouble. I'm on the flat, about 20km away in the suburb of St Albans. So call me a worry wart if you must (I am) but I, and many other residents, can't help but think 'uh-oh, here we go'..

The fire is front-of-mind, or at least top of discussion, for everyone I know - possibly because of our now inbuilt earthquake reflexes but also the smoke has been visible from virtually all parts of the city.

You can't help but feel dreadful for those in the midst or close to the fires, and grateful to the firefighters, many of whom are volunteers, leaving their families to battle the blaze.

A crack in Woodham Road caused by the Christchurch Earthquake

The fire has opened up all wounds from the Christchurch earthquakes. Photo: 123RF

But I must admit I spent the first couple of days virtually ignoring fire news. There were a couple here and one in Hawke's Bay.

Like many other residents, we just assumed they would both be extinguished as quickly as each other.

Soon Hawke's Bay was doused but the two on the Port Hills only grew.

First we heard it was under control. Then it wasn't. It seemed to change on a gust of the wind.

That's the difference between quakes and fire. Quakes come suddenly and pass, fire is ongoing and rapidly changeable.

It has affected the traffic flow, broadcasting and electricity infrastructure.

My first taste, and I mean literally, came just after lunch on Wednesday when wind brought smoke across town. The smell, sight and taste of smoke in the air, combined with a power cut that hit almost 90,000 homes across the city, made me realise the scale of disaster.

As it spread, so too did photos and chatter from people on social media. On one hand, it gave a sense of support and community, but on the other it wound me up. I had terrible trouble falling asleep, not wanting to miss out on the fire's progression.

My mind was wired and it felt a familiar feeling.

Yes, once again Cantabs were experiencing another disaster on (hopefully) only a small scale for households. It is a terrible loss for ecology and another blow for our ongoing psychosocial recovery.

But once again it has shown our community's collectively sturdy backbone and resourcefulness as people offer temporary accommodation and support to those affected.

We're still here, we're just tired.

*Beck Eleven is a freelance writer and columnist, based in Christchurch.

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