A devastating fire burned more than 1600 hectares of land on the Port Hills in February 2017, claiming the life of one firefighter and destroying nine homes and two other structures.

Port hills fire damage

Initially there were two fires that started on Monday 13 February, but they merged into one, cutting across the boundary from Selwyn District into Christchurch City.

At its peak there were up to 150 people on the ground battling the blaze and 14 helicopters and three fixed wing aircraft. More than 36 agencies were involved in the firefighting effort.

Several hundred people were evacuated and a state of local emergency was in place for Christchurch and Selwyn for two weeks, ending on 1 March.

The Christchurch Adventure Park(external link) reopened in December 2017. 

Council makes changes following review

The investigation focused on information flow and the timing of the state of emergency declaration.

Key findings:

  • If the potential consequences of the two fires merging and the risk of evacuations had been considered and communicated to the Christchurch EOC earlier it would have enabled the EOC to inform residents that evacuations may be required. This would have allowed residents to prepare for evacuations, including making arrangements for pets and removing important possessions. It would also have enabled better planning and management of the evacuation and cordon processes.
  • The information flow to affected residents and the wider public during the initial days of the fires was not always timely or sufficient and this created anxiety in the community. 

The review also found that if the declaration of a state of local emergency had been made earlier, this would have raised public awareness of the potential danger, as well as providing confidence that all available resources were being used to fight the fires. Making public confidence one of the criteria for declaring a state of emergency is one of the recommendations from the national review into the structure and operation of Civil Defence Emergency Management.

We applied some of the lessons from the Port Hills fire during the state of emergency that was declared in July 2017 due to flooding with positive results.

Port Hills fires lessons learnt report [PDF, 531 KB]

FENZ operational review and investigation into cause of fire

The review into the Port Hills fires makes recommendations on how Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) will carry out its duties in the future.

FENZ requested an independent review into the operational response to the Port Hills fires. The review was conducted by Alan Goodwin of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authority Council (AFAC).

The focus of the review was to make recommendations on how new organisation will carry out its duties in the future.

You can read more about the review and its findings on the FENZ website(external link)

FENZ has also released the outcome of its investigation into the cause of the fires(external link), which it says are undetermined. 

Understanding and reducing your fire risk

Practical information on what to plant, and fire risk tips for people living in rural areas.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has advice on understanding your fire risk and protecting your property from fire.

Weed control is essential

Plant pests, or weeds, are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in New Zealand. Weeds can prevent natural regeneration of natives as well as impact established forest on neighbouring lands.

Unfortunately, weeds are often more efficient than natives in establishing after fire. Gorse, blackberry and Californian thistle are coming back in force on burnt areas and need to be controlled so that quick-growing natives such as bracken and poroporo can establish instead. These natives provide an important role in stabilizing the soils while still allowing for seeds dispersed by birds to establish and grow.

Weed control and ongoing plant maintenance are critical to the success of any restoration planting.

Advice on how to identify and control weeds can be found at www.ecan.govt.nz(external link).

Erosion and sediment control

Environment Canterbury has a guide on options for erosion and sediment control [PDF, 894 KB] and advice on when consents might be needed for fire recovery work [PDF, 53 KB]

What to plant

Planting fast-growing native species that are found naturally on the Port Hills will provide habitat for native wildlife and a seed source for natural regeneration, as well as shelter for larger, slower-growing natives such as tōtara (Podocarpus totara).

There can be an amazing amount of variety between the same species of plant growing in different areas; in form, size, and leaf shape. By growing plants specific to different ecological areas we protect this diversity. The plants are also more likely to survive as they are specifically adapted to the conditions at this site.

Eco-sourcing ensures genetic purity by growing plants from seeds or cuttings collected from their original habitat or source.

Ten native plants natural to the Port Hills:

  1. Austroderia richardii - South Island toetoe
  2. Coprosma lucida – karamū
  3. Cordyline australis - ti kōuka/cabbage tree
  4. Corokia cotoneaster - korokio/wire-netting brush
  5. Dodonea viscosa - green akeake
  6. Hebe salicifolia and Hebe strictissima – koromiko
  7. Hoheria angustifolia - narrow-leaved lacebark
  8. Myoporum laetum – ngaio
  9. Olearia paniculata – golden akeake
  10. Pittosporum tenuifolium - kohuhu

For more information visit:

Planting for protection

Under the right conditions any plant will burn, but some plants are less flammable than others. You can create a ‘green firebreak’ by using low-flammable plants.

Poroporo (Solanum laciniatum) is quick-growing and has very low flammability. It’s not normally used in restoration projects but it will quickly provide ground cover to help suppress gorse and other weeds. Other species can be planted later and will start to naturally suppress the poroporo as they grow.

Ten green firebreak plants natural to the Port Hills:

  1. Coprosma propinqua - mingimingi 
  2. Coprosma robusta – karamū
  3. Fuchsia excorticata - kotukutuku / fuchsia
  4. Griselinia littoralis - kapuka / broadleaf
  5. Melicytus ramiflorus - mahoe / whiteywood
  6. Myrsine australis – māpou/matipou
  7. Pennantia corymbosa – kaikōmako
  8. Ripogonum scandens - kareao / supplejack
  9. Pseudopanax arboreus - whauwhaupaku / five finger
  10. Pseudopanax crassifolius - horoeka / lancewood

Note that some species will require shelter from frosts and or wind. Visit www.lucas-associates.co.nz/ecosystems/porthills.html(external link) for guidance.

Recommended nurseries

These three nurseries stock eco-sourced native plants. Motukarara and Wai-ora Landscapes only stock local eco-sourced plants. Trees for Canterbury also stock variegated natives and cultivars so ask their friendly staff for advice when purchasing.

Nursery Address Opening hours Contact details


Waihora Park
Christchurch 7672
Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm
Saturday, 10am to 3pm in May and Sept
(03) 329 7846
www.doc.govt.nz (external link)
Wai Ora Forest 
Landscapes Ltd
48 Watsons Rd
Christchurch 8051
Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm (03) 359 2458
www.waioralandscapes.co.nz(external link)
Trees for 
42 Charlesworth St

Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm
Saturday & Sunday, 9am to 4pm

(03) 982 1028
www.treesforcanterbury.org.nz(external link)
(external link)

Council adopts recovery plan

Projects to deal with landslip mitigation, replanting and reducing the likelihood of sediment runoff into waterways are included in the Port Hills Recovery Plan.

Feedback from affected property owners, the community and those with a special interest or involvement in the Port Hills was instrumental in developing the plan, which Christchurch City Council adopted on 8 June 2017.

Some work has already been completed, while medium-term measures identified will need to be considered for funding in the 2017/18 Annual Plan and longer term projects the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan.

As well as looking at landslip mitigation, replanting and efforts to reduce the likelihood of sediment runoff into waterways, the plan also touches on the fire response itself.

Port Hills Recovery Plan [PDF, 4.7 MB]

Port Hills Recovery Plan Discussion Document  [PDF, 894 KB]

Recovery team weekly reports

Below are links to the weekly reports from the Christchurch recovery team. Some information has been redacted because it contains personal information or material that is commercially sensitive. 

Recovery projects

Recovery works and how people are contributing to the Port Hills recovery effort.

Volunteers get digging

Volunteers have hit the ground this winter, getting stuck in planting about 7200 native plants in the fire-affected area.

About 6500 trees and plants planted by volunteers in Port Hills reserves over the past 15 years were destroyed in February’s devastating wildfire but in an amazing community effort more than that have been planted over winter. They have also made 10,000 plastic cages to protect the fledgling plants so they get the best growing start possible.

Read more about the volunteer effort on Newsline(external link).

Ohinetahi Reserve

The Port Hills fires have seriously impacted the Summit Road Society’s Ohinetahi Reserve, with 83 hectares of native reserve burnt. Up to 1.3km of fencing also needs replacing.  

Find out more about how you can help Summit Road Society volunteers to preserve the landscape and remaining biodiversity at the Summit Road Society’s webpage.(external link)


Links and presentations about the fire and fire protection.

Ecological impact of the fire

At a meeting in March 2017, people with expertise and an interest in the ecology of the Port Hills met to discuss the impact of the fire and look at regeneration and protection measures.

Below are copies of presentations by Dr Tim Curran, senior lecturer in ecology at Lincoln University, and Professor David Norton from the School of Forestry at University of Canterbury.

Port Hills Complex Fire 2017 Ecological Stakeholders Presentation PowerPoint David Norton [PDF, 2.4 MB]

Port Hills Complex Fire 2017 Ecological Stakeholders Presentation Tim Curran [PDF, 1.5 MB]

This article describes in more detail the ideas behind green firebreaks.

The Conversation - Low flammability plants could help our homes survive bushfires(external link)