​A Christchurch family is nervously waiting for sunrise, fearful light will reveal the charred remains of a home hastily left behind in the night.

Emily Rose Maree was enjoying some afternoon shopping yesterday when she received word her mum's home on Penruddock Rise in Westmorland was under threat from the fast approaching Port Hills flames.

"We immediately got in the car and headed for home. Traffic was a complete nightmare and backed up almost from Penruddock Rise and Cashmere Rd to Pioneer Stadium, with the roads lined with cars parked either side," she told the Herald early this morning from the relative safety of a New Brighton home.

"Stress started to sink in by the time we could see police cars in the distance at the corner of Penruddock Rise. I got out of the car and ran to speak to police."

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The Christchurch native, visiting for her brother's wedding, said a police cordon was already in place and limiting access to people's homes.

"We got home and packed out bags, mum got the essentials, irreplaceables and sentimental items and we headed for my brother's place.

"Before we left we went to the top of the [Penruddock] Rise and my partner, who is a photographer, took his camera to see what he could capture."

What she witnessed was a panicked and sad scene.

Flames from wild fires on the Port Hills in Christchurch illuminate the night sky. Photo / Anthony Barker
Flames from wild fires on the Port Hills in Christchurch illuminate the night sky. Photo / Anthony Barker

She said police were evacuating scared families, while fire crews fought the fire from the ground, desperately holding back a blaze intent on destroying more homes.

"We could see the helicopters refilling using a private pool in someone's yard and in the background what remains of a home [on Worsley Road] that was sadly taken [by] the flames."

More than 1000 residents have fled their homes and at least eight properties have burned to the ground.

Police and the Defence Force personnel have spent the night going door-to-door evacuating people.

The Sydney-based woman sought refuge for a few hours at her brother's home, but returned to her mum's house about 9.30 last night.

She said police told them to leave, telling them the chances of a forced evacuation were 50/50.

"Within half an hour a police office came and told us we needed to pack and be ready for evacuation.

"We watched the news in shock at how quickly the blaze was spreading while watching out the window to the brightly lit red sky."

Within 45 minutes the police officer returned and said Rose Maree and her family needed to evacuate immediately.

"We got what we packed, the cat, and got in the car. There was at least five police cars in eyesight with police knocking on doors and checking houses were empty," she said.

The family left their home just before midnight.

"I guess now we wait for daylight and see what tomorrow brings."