A photographer who surveyed the damage of the Port Hills fire from the air has shared the incredible images that show the devastation to the area near Christchurch.

"In 25 years of covering news it's the largest fire I've seen," freelance photographer Damon Forde said.

"The scale of it and just how close so many people came to losing their homes really can only be understood from the air.

"Winds really picked up and I have a feeling when they ground the helicopters the fire could flare up again."

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"It also gave me a real understanding of how hard those pilots have to work in blustery conditions while looking out for other aircraft while trying to get water on the hot spots, really quite impressive to watch."

The fire swept over the Port Hills area. Photo / via video
The fire swept over the Port Hills area. Photo / via video

Meanwhile, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission has recovered the wreckage of the Squirrel helicopter that crashed on Tuesday during firefighting operations on the hills behind Christchurch.

The pilot, decorated war hero father-of-two Steve Askin, died in the accident.

TAIC investigator Steve Walker said the recovery operation this afternoon was challenging.

"The wreckage was in a steep gully under the Sugarloaf and conditions were hot and windy, making it challenging for the ground crew loading the wreckage, and the investigators," he said.

The main fuselage being airlifted out of a steep gully under the Sugarloaf. Photo TAIC
The main fuselage being airlifted out of a steep gully under the Sugarloaf. Photo TAIC

The wreckage was lifted out in five loads and placed on a truck for transport to a secure site in Christchurch from where it will be transported to TAIC's technical facility in Wellington for further analysis.

TAIC had planned to begin the airlift this morning but had to wait for clearance to use the road which had been closed because of the threat from the bush fire.