Jordan Bond is a reporter for NZME's Local Network.

Rotorua firefighters bolster Port Hills effort

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Phil Muldoon and the crew before heading down to assist the Port Hills efforts. Photo/Facebook
Phil Muldoon and the crew before heading down to assist the Port Hills efforts. Photo/Facebook

Five Rotorua volunteer firefighters have taken leave from their jobs and families to help battle the ongoing fire situation in Christchurch's Port Hills.

The firefighters - Phil Muldoon, Ray Doyle, Stu Lyall, Roi Toia and Blair Gilbert - are from Lake Okareka Volunteer Fire Force, and are helping other crews with the remaining efforts.

Although the fire is now contained, Mr Muldoon, the chief rural fire officer for Lake Okareka, told the Rotorua Daily Post the crew were hard at work helping where they could.

"It's actually quite strenuous and it's long days. We're up at about 5 in the morning, and we're back around 7 or 8 at night," Mr Muldoon said.

Mr Muldoon said the five travelled down in their fire truck on Monday night, and arrived on Tuesday evening. He said they're likely to return next Friday - nine full days.

Christchurch City Council said most of the fire was now under control, the last major cordon for residents has been lifted and most evacuees had returned home.

Nevertheless, a state of emergency is still in place and fire services are continuing operations because of the risk of flare-ups in forecast warmer weather.

Port Hills is the Lake Okareka crew's third external fire deployment this summer - following January's Whitianga fire and Te Pohue's 100 hectare fire, inland of Napier, earlier this month.

"This is my ninth deployment and it's Ray Doyle's seventh deployment, so we're very experienced," Mr Muldoon said.

Mr Muldoon said the crew could not be there helping if it wasn't for the generosity of their employers agreeing to give them time off.

"We appreciate the support from our employers for releasing us to be able to assist in other areas. That's very important, when you volunteer."

Pumicelands Rural Fire Authority chief executive Paul Wright said it had been an unusually busy season. There are 25 Pumicelands-area firefighters helping in Christchurch.

"We've been able to release quite a few of our firefighters to go to these incidents," Mr Wright said.

"This year we've had it all - we've got people involved in the incident management teams, right through to the actual firefighters doing the hard work on the ground."

He said while the fire was contained on the surface, the battle had now moved underground. Buried logs and tree roots can catch fire and cause fires to flare up.

"That's what the crews are doing down there now - they're not fighting a fire, they're digging out hotspots and hosing them out with water. That's where most of the work is. It's very hard work."

The image below shows the extent of the fire damage. The red is vegetation, shown in two photos: the left image on Monday, and the right taken last year.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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