Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Situation 'about as bad as it can be', says Port Hills resident anxiously watching fire's progress

They stand huddled together on Bengal Drive, their faces drawn and their eyes fixed on a house across the valley.

The white wooden house in the pines of the Port Hills stands out amid the charred landscape, waves of smoke rolling across and often obstructing it from view.

It's been their home for more than 20 years and the Poultney family may be about to watch it burn to the ground.

And there is nothing they can do to stop it.

"It's about as bad as it can be," Grant Poultney told the Herald.

"Apart from someone telling you a close family member has died, it's about as bad as things can get."

Poultney and his wife fled the house when they spotted flames over the back fence yesterday.

He'd been monitoring the fire all day and thought his place on Worsleys Rd would be safe — and then the wind changed.

Last night he stood on Bengal Drive with his neighbour Ken Reese and the pair watched as the flames got bigger and the smoke thicker.

"I couldn't even see my house, I had convinced myself that it hadn't survived the fire, I saw flames going across and I just had to assume the worst," he said.

He returned this morning but couldn't see a thing through the smoke. Then, a white form appeared. Poultney thought it was a white chopper, he could hear a few in the sky.

"Then I saw enough to see my house was still there.

He said Reese's house burned to the ground at 7am, so his property was far from safe.

It's wooden, the deck out the front is wooden and the grass around it is tinder dry — as is the firewood stacked along the front.

Even though the house is still standing, it would only take one stray ember to raze it.

Poultney said he was frustrated at not knowing what was going on across the valley, anxious and sad at the thought of losing his family home.

"I'm trying not to get stressed, that won't help me," he said.

"We just have to cross our fingers."

Poultney believed that there had been several "windows of opportunity" where the choppers could have come with their buckets and effectively put out the fire.

Yesterday morning, he said, everything was still and calm. But, by the time the choppers got to the area the wind had picked up and the fire had flared again.

"By the time they got here, they didn't have a shit show," he said.

"Fires don't wait for people."

Poultney's daughter, who is putting her parents up on an airbed at her flat in the city, was also on Bengal Drive this morning watching and waiting.

"I lived there for the first 20 years of my life," she said.

"My dad pretty much built the house, so it's not a great feeling.

"The not knowing is the worst — you can obviously see the house but you don't know the extent of the damage."

Poultney was trying to keep his hope up, and not let the panic set in.

"I was 99 per cent sure it had gone last night, and I was quite amazed to see it still standing today."

As the Herald spoke to Poultney the choppers, circled over and over, dumping buckets of water near his house and others.

"The fact that they are still working up there tells me that there's still something of concern there," he said.

"We can see the roof but that doesn't tell us the whole story, we certainly can't say that the house is unscathed. We just have to wait."

Christchurch road closures:

- NZ Herald

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