Contractors working in the area where the devastating fire first broke out on Monday pleaded for helicopters to be sent out, it can be revealed.

Co-owner of McCarthy Contractors, Robert McCarthy, said workers were packing up for the day when they spotted smoke on Early Valley Rd in Lansdowne Valley.

"Our staff were just finishing work and one of them said 'oh s*** there's smoke there', ripped out in the ute down Lansdowne Valley and basically called 111 and said 'fire on the Port Hills, this is going to be pretty serious, send choppers'," Mr McCarthy said.

Mr McCarthy said they had to act quickly, and his staff went door to door urging people to get out of the area.

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"We just ripped into houses trying to get people out," Mr McCarthy said.

Lansdowne residents have criticised the response to the fire, and why helicopters were not sent sooner.

Mr McCarthy said it was easy to be critical of how the fire was managed, after the fact.

"You can have 15 choppers there if you know it's going to be a 200-hectare scrub fire but when she's a wee fire on the side of the road you think 'what do you send?' " he said.

On Thursday, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton conceded there were communication problems between the different fire organisations in Canterbury, and declaring a state of emergency took too long.