ALISON MAU: Gerry Brownlee needs a wet flannel and a lie down

Be a love will you someone, and offer the Civil Defence Minister a wet flannel and a place to lie down for a bit?

Gerry Brownlee’s had a hell of a 24 hours, dashing back and forth between different positions on the timing of the declaration of a state of emergency in Canterbury.

On Thursday morning he upset the mayors of Christchurch and Selwyn, saying they should have had the emergency declaration in place earlier. This, he says, would have given the public a better take on the seriousness of the Port Hills fire crisis.

Both mayors, Lianne Dalziel and Sam Broughton, agreed that communication between them and central government could have been better, but insisted an earlier call would have made no difference at all to the firefighting.

By the time I interviewed Mr Brownlee in Christchurch on Thursday afternoon his feelings hadn’t changed - but he declined to talk about them, saying it would “diminish the terrific work the firefighters are doing”.

But by Friday morning he was back to releasing statements raising the issue again. To be clear: nobody’s (yet) arguing with the suggestion the laws governing Civil Defence need a tweak.

But the minister’s timing, ironically, is infuriating those in charge of a bushfire crisis that’s not yet over.

The Christchurch Civil Defence controller, John Mackie, said he was “stunned” by Mr Brownlee’s comments and that the minister had “done nothing for the engagement of the volunteers” who’d put in a massive effort over the past five days.

The time for a review is later, he pleaded, let us get on with our job.

Meanwhile the stories of homes and livelihoods lost are starting to emerge. It’d be a hard-hearted Kiwi indeed who doesn’t feel for families who’ve lost everything.

From what I heard in Christchurch on Thursday though, we may be very lucky the toll wasn’t greater given the number of rubberneckers getting in the way.

One Cashmere Hills resident phoned RadioLIVE Drive and told me her daughter, panicked and ready to flee, was blocked completely. She phoned her mum when the flames were almost at the roadside and described carloads of idiots taking pictures.

There were even reports of mini-buses full of rest home residents driven to the fire for a look-see!

I appreciate that not many New Zealanders have ever seen a bushfire up close, but this is a level of idiocy that can kill you within minutes.

Watch it on the telly next time: you’ll get a better view - and you’ll still be around to talk about it.

Alison Mau hosts RadioLIVE Drive from 3pm-6pm weekdays