‘It’s caused so much devastation’

Port Hills locals are furious one of two massive Christchurch fires was suspicious and want anyone found responsible to be punished.

Police have launched a criminal investigation into the Marley’s Hill fire, which broke out on 13 February.

The blaze joined another several kilometres away on Early Valley Road and together torched 2000 hectares of forestry, gutted 11 houses and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Former SAS member and pilot Steve Askin lost his life when his helicopter crashed while fighting the blaze.

Early estimates show nearly $8 million was spent putting the fires out.

Police said yesterday evidence from the Marley’s Hill fire showed it was deliberate.

Detective Inspector Greg Murton said the cause and origin of the fire wasn’t yet certain but it was clear a criminal investigation was required.

Police had talked to many witnesses but were urging anyone else with information to come forward, he said.

‘It’s caused so much devastation’

“Whoever set this fire, I feel like [they need] to be sorted,” said Janice Thornton, co-owner of the Sign of the Kiwi cafe on the Port Hills.

“It’s caused so much devastation with so many people, and disruption.

“I believe that somehow it will sort itself out and in another year or so and we’ll hopefully be back on track.

“But you can’t bring back the life of the poor pilot that was lost and the destruction that the families were caused.”

Rory Creagh, who was evacuated from his home on Kennedy’s Bush Road for six days, said the chances of two large fires breaking out so close to one another in quick succession had raised eyebrows.

“But from my perspective, it doesn’t actually change for me the way in which the whole event was handled and the aftermath with regard to accountability, responsibility, communication.

“I don’t think they’ve answered any of those questions,” Mr Creagh said.

News of the police investigation did not come as a surprise to Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust chairman Mark Christensen.

He said there was a hint the fire might have been suspicious at the time.

But he was was now working hard to deal with the aftermath.

“We are really focused on what we can do to help revegetate, help support the owners to bring back the vegetation that might have originally been there.”

Janice Thornton of the Sign of the Kiwi cafe is looking to the future.

She said the initial loss of business hit her and her business partner hard but they were slowly building momentum.

“It’s school holidays at the moment and the weekends are booming. I’m ever the optimist, and always think of the future and think things are going to get better.”

Fire and Emergency has been investigating both fires, and the Cause and Origin Fire Investigation Report for the Early Valley Road blaze is expected to take at least another couple of months.