It’s good to see the days are getting longer and warmer again, although it would be nice to see a lot less rain. Daylight savings is just around the corner, which is a timely reminder of the need to check that the smoke detectors in your home are all in working order. Also, don’t forget to get your chimney swept if you have been using your fire a lot over the winter.
While we have been experiencing significantly wet conditions over our winter, British Columbia in Canada has been experiencing its worst fire season on record over the Northern Hemisphere summer. At the beginning of August, 81 Fire and Emergency New Zealand personnel were deployed to Canada to assist with the effort to contain and control the hundreds of wildfires, some of which have been burning for over two months.
An Incident Management Team, consisting of 21 people including myself, were sent to three different fire complexes during the deployment where we set-up and managed the complex and fire operations for over 20 fires. One of these fires covered an area of over 500,000 hectares.
The twelve fire crews (consisting of five firefighters per crew) were sent to one of the more demanding and prolonged fires, Elephant Hill, and spent the duration of their deployment at this fire which covered some 187,000 hectares. Andi Uhl, Ray Doyle, Stu Lyall and Roi Toia from the Okareka and Rotoiti Fire Forces, along with Anthony Young from Timberlands, were one of the crews.
The conditions were extremely dry and daily temperatures were between 33-38°C, although on one day, the fire crews experienced an extreme drop in temperature down to 3°C along with some hail and snow. On a number of occasions, people were evacuated from homes and relocated, as weather and climatic conditions stretched resources and the fires broke containment lines. The fires in Canada are massive and on a completely different scale compared with vegetation fires here in New Zealand and even Australia. The smoke clouds from the fires went some 30,000-40,000 feet into the atmosphere, and the smoke haze could be seen across British Columbia and into Alaska. The cost for managing the fire response in British Columbia to date is in excess of C$400 million.
Safety, as always, came first and foremost, as the Incident Management Team and crews negotiated not only the usual fire, equipment, conditions and terrain hazards but also the wildlife. Black bears in close proximity to fire crews were a regular threat, and a cougar (the four-legged kind!) took a stroll through camp one night.
There was a mix of nationalities in the camps including Canadians, Americans, Mexicans and Australians in addition to the New Zealand contingent. Accommodation was definitely no frills consisting of tents and sleeping mats. The fire camps often housed between 200-400 people, with one complex housing 900 people at its peak.
The deployment lasted for 4½ weeks with personnel returning to New Zealand on the 6th and 10th of September. It was an incredible opportunity for us to participate in the deployment and the experience for all involved was invaluable.
If you have been thinking about joining the Fire Force, please come down to the fire station at 7.30pm on a Wednesday night when we do training or phone me on 3628874. You can also go to our website: www.okarekaruralfire.com.
Chief Fire Officer