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Johnny Moore: Moving to the hills for peace and quiet backfires

The fire forced Port Hills residents from their homes, with others anxiously bracing in case they, too, have to evacuate.

OPINION: My wife and I moved out of the central city recently. I'd lived there for over a decade and it felt like time for a change.

We started renting a friend's house in Cashmere. A 1970s Lockwood, it looked out over the city and we could see from the ocean to the Alps on a clear day.

Sure, it gets stinking hot on a sunny day and hyper-cold when the mercury drops, but we love it. It's a short motorcycle or pushbike ride to work and when we open the windows the Bellbirds and Tui are singing in the trees.

The blaze could cause heat and smoke damage to a "large number of homes", police warn.

The trees themselves are lovely, just having them around is refreshing.

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Residents have no option but to wait and hope for good news.

We've been telling people all the excellent things about our living situation.


"Why pay to rent a lodge in Hanmer Springs when you can live in one every damn day of the year. That's the Lockwood Home dream. Besides, who wants to have to run from a tsunami?"

We've been smug about our move. Very smug indeed.

Work to bring the Port Hills fire under control.

This week the choppers started; there were fires on the hill. Now those of you that remember the cartoon Captain Planet will know that fire is one of the five main elements (earth/fire/wind/water/heart) which means it's a big scary ol' thing to have to combat – a reminder of how vulnerable we are.

But surely not? Surely we live in a town in a country in a world where a bit of fire's not going to rip through and start getting all up in our grill? Isn't that what Australia's for?

No, now we are living in a neighbourhood where we are spending the evenings looking at the Civil Defence website and planning departure. The neighbourhood kicks into gear – the same as I saw various neighbourhoods do after the quakes – and people chat in the street and in driveways, making plans for those that might need a hand.

A house at the end of Bengal Dr with the Port Hills fire behind.

I get spooked when I see the charred shell of a classic car on Stuff. I hide my car in somebody's shed across town – like a bankrupt avoiding the receiver. As I'm moving my car, the neighbours are moving their motorbikes. They have a similar piston-type affliction that I have.

The cops are saying that if we feel unsafe then we need to leave. The coppers I talk to are amazing. I'm filled with admiration for the people who have to do all the hard work fixing a mess like this while every Noel Knowitall at the pub is telling how he would have resolved it better.

We don't leave. We stay the night in our house. There's something in us that's sick of disruption to what should really be a normal, boring life full of white privilege and holidays to the Gold Coast.

Onlookers get a vantage point to the Port Hils fire just above a house at the end of Bengal Dr, Cashmere.

I go to work. I come home late at night and the crests of the hills are lit up like Hell. Like fire and brimstone. I tell my dodgy brother-in-law. He hassles me for using hell as a simile when I'm a devout atheist.

I argue that he didn't even know what a simile was before I showed up. Besides, even atheists like good imagery.

"It looked like Mordor then. Happy?"

As a publican, there's only one house on my street that's ever up when I'm coming home – I can see what they're watching on telly as I ride my bike past. This week, the hills are blazing; families are standing out on decks taking photos; people are in driveways packing cars.

I'm scared and need to go to bed. I think about how being in a disaster brings out something primal, makes us into shivering wee mammals, huddling for warmth and looking for an explanation for things outside of our control. I suppose fear is a really good evolutionary reaction to trouble.

Old earthquake anxieties that have been buried, repressed and forgotten start to bubble to the surface. I cry when I'm watching the news. What's that about? We go to bed with the sky red and the smell of smoke in the house.

The next day arrives without incident and this is how the week continues. So far we have been lucky. But a few poor sods haven't been lucky and helping them is the next challenge. Hopefully this thing gets under control soon and we can all move back to being a town at the bottom of the world that nobody cares about.

I worry that I'm going from disaster to disaster. What if I'm a perpetual victim? Maybe I'm a junkie for it? I had completely forgotten rubbernecking, rubberneckers and being rubbernecked. Now here I am, all over again, up to my spuds in the situation.

It used to be I worried Princess Di's death would be the defining moment of my life – now it seems I can't go any decent period of time without danger looming.

Jesus, I need a new-new-new-normal. I think I need to move back into the central city for a bit of peace and quiet.




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