The Ballantyne's Department Store fire of 18 November 1947 was — until the 2011 earthquake — Christchurch’s biggest disaster. It claimed 41 lives and, as the narration says, was “one of the greatest civil tragedies New Zealand has known.” Shot by National Film Unit crew who happened to be in the city for another film, Christchurch Fire shows the battle to beat the blaze: from the mass of hoses on Cashel St, to a fireman swapping a ciggie for a cup of tea. After the footage was rushed to Wellington, the film debuted in cinemas the night after the fire, and was also seen overseas.
The second half of this documentary following the effects of the Christchurch 2010 earthquakes revisits its subjects in the days after the catastrophic events of 22 February 2011. Devastation is now widespread, the death toll is growing and aftershocks number in the hundreds. Over the next eight months, seriously injured bodies mend, but while there are moments of hope, lives are on hold and nerves are being stretched to breaking point by the constantly moving ground, recurring liquefaction and uncertainty about whether precious homes can, or should, be rebuilt.