The Prime Minister has sidestepped questions about the failure of widespread emergency measures to be taken earlier in the Port Hills wildfires.



Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee is questioning the emergency response saying he was "perplexed" as to why a state of emergency was not declared earlier, and asked why rural fire agencies were leading the response.



Today Prime Minister Bill English said the focus should be on putting out the fire.

"As you fly around it becomes apparent the danger in fighting this fire. It makes you realise what a threat it has been to the community," English said.

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He said there had been offers of help from Australia and the appropriate people were assessing whether it was required.

New Zealand's firefighters have often gone to Australia to help fight their bushfires.
He said there were enough resources on the ground.

English said he did not believe most New Zealanders were worried about "bureaucratic decisions" right now, but about how weell the community was being looked after.

Asked about the Civil Defence response he said some believed it should have been declared a state of emergency earlier, but he would not comment on it saying it would be looked into later.

"No doubt someone will look at whether the processes should have been different."

He said Brownlee had a clear opinion about it.

"The most urgent issue has been containing the fire."

He said the fire fighters were highly skilled and had successfully contained the fire, although it was not yet under control.

"The focus at the moment for Gerry and the firefighters is getting on top of that fire. It's getting more threatening to some parts of Christchurch and they've got a tough day ahead of them."

The Government response included mobilising the Defence Force.

He said the Fire Service and civil defence system were "totally focused" on protecting the people at risk of the fire and putting out the blaze.

English said no one could have anticipated the large-scale fire on the Port Hills.

Brownlee has labelled the declaration of a civil emergency in Christchurch as "slow" and questioned whether enough resources were being thrown at the fire.

In an interview with Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB this morning, Brownlee said although he was "full of admiration" for those out in the field, he was worried that not enough was being done.

"It's not easy, it's tough work and dangerous work, so I fully support [firefighters], I just think that the structure that got us the state of the civil emergency appears to have been a little slow.

"We're going to have a cross-party meeting today because none of us were particularly happy with the results of Kaikoura. The people who did things were great but it's the structure that's the problem. Beyond that, expressing our concern, I can't say too much before we all sit down and have a look at it."

When questioned by Hosking whether he was confident there were enough resources being thrown in to help fight the fire, Brownlee wasn't sure.

"I do hope so. I'm not there but I will be there in about an hour's time and whatever is needed, the government will do.

"We have, through the military, considerable transport options but what does concern me a bit is that for a couple of days we've been told 'we've got all we need' and 'we don't need any more resources' but we're not on top of it."

He hoped it wouldn't be another disaster where, after the emergency ended, officials would be sitting back wishing they'd done more.

"I think we could all be in that situation and I don't want to make distant comments at this point, I just want to support those people who are in pretty dangerous circumstances on the ground and they deserve to have that support."

However, national principal rural fire officer Kevin O'Connor, who is also in Christchurch, said the organisation didn't call the shots on the civil emergency declaration, his guys were there to fight the fire.

When asked about criticism pointed at the organisation about possible lack of resources, O'Connor stood by the number of staff on the scene.

"We're very pleased, we've got a very good team and a good national incident management team that is overseeing it and we've got really hardworking crews. We've got about 30 crews on the ground and we've got very dedicated and focused aircraft operators.

"They're all doing a fantastic job. We're really very, very fortunate and got some of our best people doing a great job, so I'm really confident."

However, when asked if he would call in extra crews to help, O'Connor said it was a fluid situation and anything could happen.

"Things change every five minutes in a big fire so we're constantly re-evaluating and it's a complex fire and the conditions are very variable and the smoke and the vegetation is complex, the weather is variable so we are constantly re-evaluating."

As for the weather forecast, O'Connor said the wind had turned from a northerly to an easterly, which he said was "not too bad" but more detail was coming it.