Fire chiefs scrambling after a spate of fires on Christchurch's Port Hills hope an immediate fireworks ban and move into restricted fire season will help stomp them out.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) announced the fireworks ban, covering the "high risk" Port Hills, Akaroa and Bottle Lake areas and effective from 6pm, at a press conference this afternoon following a series of fires.
There have been up to 10 suspicious fires over last 10 days, Fenz says.
They are working with police "to see if there are any connections".
But they say they have no concerns there's a firebug on the loose yet.
A major blaze on Friday when at least 50 firefighters worked through the night to douse a blaze on the hills which forced the evacuation of around 40 houses was caused by late-night fireworks, Fenz confirmed today.
The Canterbury district moves into a restricted fire season from 11.59pm tonight.
There were four suspicious fires on Summit Rd and Governors Bay Rd in the early hours of last Wednesday morning – and yesterday, 16 houses were evacuated on Clifton Hill after a blaze on Galilee Lane, Clifton sparked off about 11.30am.
It spread over 4-6ha before four helicopters and eight fire appliances, plus tankers, got it under control.
Area Commander Dave Stackhouse said yesterday's Clifton fire was started by a spark from a grinding tool during building work.
There were two more fires overnight - on Evans Pass Rd near Rapanui Park at about 2.12am – which again fire chiefs believe were deliberately lit.
With the spate of fires, and the conditions drying out in the warm temperatures, Stackhouse is banning the use of fireworks under Section 52 of the Fire and Emergency Act.
Section 52 of the Act allows Fire and Emergency to restrict activities that may start or cause the spread of fire. A willful breach can result in two years imprisonment or $300,000 fine.
"These are all high-risk areas," Stackhouse said.
"And what we saw on Friday night was completely unnecessary and avoidable."
Christchurch is seeing temperatures peak in the high 20s and low 30s.
Ground conditions are dry, and expected to get drier, and a spark can quickly turn into a dangerous fire, Stackhouse said.
He said there was a "significant fire hazard" on the hills.
"Using fireworks should be completely out of the question, and we will take a very dim view of anyone who is found to be using them while this ban is in place," said Stackhouse.
"We are asking residents living around the Port Hills, Bottle Lake and Akaroa to keep an eye out for fireworks or other suspicious activity. If you see anything suspicious call 111.
"The public are our eyes and ears and with its help, we can quickly respond and get to fires before they become too difficult to contain."
Fenz wants everyone to consider the fire risks before undertaking any spark-generating activities.
"In extreme conditions it only takes a spark to start a devastating wildfire. That spark can come from a campfire, a gas cooker, a charcoal barbeque or a vehicle exhaust," Stackhouse said.
"We saw from yesterday's fire at Redcliffs that a spark from a grinding tool can start a fire that can quickly spread and endanger homes."