Devilish red fingers on our hills
We lost so much after the earthquakes. These fires feel like yet another major blow to our city.
After the earthquakes, with our swimming pools, sports grounds and centres largely destroyed, the welcoming green jewel of the city, the Port Hills, became our playground.
Nestled around the city, the hills are a familiar, comforting sight in an unknown place we lived called the ‘‘new normal’’. Last year more than 1.2 million people visited the Port Hills.
Do you remember the photographs taken from the hills showing dust rising from around Christchurch city after the 2011 earthquake?
As we near the sixth anniversary of that tragedy, it feels almost as if the scene is reversed.
Back then we took to the hills, looking down upon our earthquake-damaged city in horror. Now we are looking up to the our fire-ravaged hills, staring horrified at the spiralling smoke plumes and dust clouds.
It’s nothing short of devastating.
Hearts must go out to those who have lost their homes and especially to the family of pilot and former soldier David Steven Askin, a true hero who lost his life while working to save others.
Meanwhile, residents of the hill suburbs evacuated their homes, posting pictures online of giant flames near their houses, their cars loaded with pets bundled in cages or wide-eyed children.
It felt chaotic and their panic, even from the distance of a screen, was palpable.
Like the tsunami warning debacle of last November, there seemed to be little clear direction from authorities for affected residents.
Cantabrians have a special relationship with the Port Hills. We use the tracks that crisscross the foothills as a giant green gym, jogging the gentle curving slopes of the Harry Ell track or puffing up the steep Worsleys Spur.
To stand at some point on the Crater Rim was to be struck by our city’s abundance of natural beauty – the stunning views of the harbour on one side, the majestic Southern Alps on the other.
Any damage to the Adventure Park and the beautiful trees that surround it is particularly galling. It’s a fun-filled giant symbol that Christchurch was moving forward – that, finally, something was happening in the rebuild. To be uncertain of its future so soon after celebrating its opening is disheartening.
‘‘Kia kaha’’ we say to each other here whenever Mother Nature lets one rip.
It means, of course, ‘‘stay strong’’. But the phrase has, perhaps, also changed and deepened in meaning for Cantabrians.
Sometimes ‘‘kia kaha’’ can also mean: ‘‘We feel your pain, we acknowledge your pain, we can’t believe that we are having to go through this either. Seriously, what next? We are strangers but we’re in this together and we will do whatever we can to help you get through this.’’
As people were evacuated, Cantabrians rushed to offer strangers their homes. Other people offered to drive livestock to safety and feed and care for beloved pets.
Armies of people baked for, and fed and watered our hardworking firefighters and police force.
This spirit and heart is what it means to be a Cantabrian.
There’s a 90-year-old in the thick of it dispensing a bit of wisdom when required.
She grew up in the Depression and lived through the Blitz.
As her home is in the vicinity of the fire’s devilish red fingers, I called to check up on her.
She tells me that she’s been making cheese scones for the Fire Service and police since the sun came up.
‘‘That’s what you do in difficult times. You look after each other as best you can, you do your bit. Hopefully the Christchurch summer will be on course and the rain will come soon. In time the grass will grow and we will run on the green hills again.’’