The taskforces, including our New Zealand crews, who are firefighting on Elephant Hill.
Have you ever had those moments where you turn around and ask yourself, where did that week go? Well, with two weeks down, most of us are wondering where the time went. Seconds merged into minutes that merged into hours that merged into what-day-is-it-today? In which the proper response is usually…does it matter?
Thankfully though, the teams have well and truly reached the mid-way point of their deployment. And it is now time to rest those blistered hands and weary feet that have pounded the fields and forests of British Columbia. It’s a time to unwind, relax and have a few more laughs with those we work with as well as sightsee around the province a bit more.
Scenically, Canada is quite similar to New Zealand; lush greens, wide open spaces, mountains so huge you could drive a ute over it for days. But of course, Canada is so much bigger, it’s like New Zealand…but on steroids.
It’s a visual feast for the eyes and every outdoor loving nerd’s best dream. And so, to the outdoors we go.
Pictures from the crew on the Clinton Fire
14 days straight – that’s how long it takes to do one ‘tour’. Everyone is up early at 5.30am so they can get their weetbix in* (*there is no weetbix) before being briefed by their team leaders on what their objectives are for the day. Crews usually head out of camp from 6.30am and return back to camp between 6pm to 9pm.
The temperatures have picked up again but nowhere near as sweaty as it was on our first week. Averaging between 22-27 which may sound pleasant, but give thought to the fact that our men and women also have to wear all the kit along with carrying so much gear around. I suppose it gives them the right to get their feast on since they’ve lost all that weight on the line (and the food is so gooood).
Steve leads crews from Otago, Crew Leader Ben Douglas (Dougie), Will McBeth, Sonya Poplawski, Daniel Marfell and Sam DeReeper. Nelson, Crew Leader Matt Pearless, Graham Staples, Steve Parker, Bruce Hampton and Cory “I wear shorts every chance I get” Rusbatch. Southern, Crew Leader Grant Tremain, Neil Gardyne, Roger Sutton, Nick “Wi, I want to watch the All Blacks” McCabe and Darrin Scott. And finally Mid-South Canterbury, Crew Leader Kevin Donaldson, Marcus Reveley, Robert Schiphorst and Nathan Currie.
Morning briefing session conducted by Steve Ochsner, Task Force Leader, or in Canadian speak Crew Leader, of his 20 pack. The teams are being reminded to focus on the day’s task at hand as we get closer to our R&R days; there is a lot more work to be done before then.
Steve's crew have had some long days recently and are having a major impact in containing the fire.
(Above) Day 13 for members of Task Force Charlie saw a parting of ways with the local Grayco 6 crew, who live approximately an hour away from Clinton, timing out from the Elephant Hill fire today. Lance Dixon (centre behind the lady) and the rest of Great Barrier Team along with Rob Clarke, stand alongside their work buddies for the past week; reinforcing the strong camaraderie that exists between firefighters all over the world.
Pick the Kiwis in the crowd as a large chopper takes off.
If anyone ever says we’re on holiday, they’re totally mistaken. Hard yakka from the teams.
A good night’s sleep amongst the bears (or snorers) before waking up to get into the teamwork!
Some of the teams experienced light snow on the elephant hill fire yesterday. 38 to 3 degree shift!
You remember in the last newsletter how I said not to get too comfy cos anything could and most probably could change. Well, for the Incident Management Team, we were based at Puntzi for less than a week before we got the call that we’d be shifting to another camp two hours’ drive towards the North West. Oh…and we had to set the camp up before we got there. Sweet.
The mere concept of trying to find a location to put a camp down that can fit up to 300 people is hard to comprehend. I mean, where do you start? But heh, nothing stops us kiwis when it comes to a good challenge and through all the logistics we achieved something awesome. Ladies and gentlemen, the kiwis created a whole fire camp in Canada. And it was great to stamp our mark on that little corner in British Columbia. To use a Ritchie McCaw-ism, “full credit to the team. It was a great effort.” It definitely was.
Unfortunately, we were only there for two nights before we had to leave. Sigh.
Lake Anahim fire camp (kitchen, offices, bathrooms & laundry in lower half; rangers and camping area upper half)
And now the IMT are situated at Central Cariboo Complex which, if you google it, is located in the Williams Lake area. The complex is a lot bigger with close to 400 people camping in the site. We’re looking after nine fires which may sound like a lot, but they’re “smaller” fires which we hope are at the tail-end of their ruin.
Aerial shot of Central Cariboo Complex
And as the sun settles over the complex, the faint sound of cougars are heard in the distance.
Breathe in…breathe out…stretch to the sky…and relax. Ah yes, it is R&R time for our teams. It was exciting as well as we weren’t really sure where we would be going. But honestly, by the time day 14 hit we were ready to kick back and unwind for a couple of days. Tents would be replaced with rooms, camp kitchens with restaurants, bathrooms with, well...bathrooms, but you get the idea. It was time to see more of this beautiful province of British Columbia.
The IMT were graciously sent for their R&R to Quesnel. While some of us struggled with the pronounciation (the s is silent), the rest of us were researching what to do there. It’s a small locale with a population of 10k, numerous cafés and the odd person donning a cowboy hat – it was Canadian country at its finest. We were told that an hour and a half away was a town called Barkerville which, it put it subtly, is like a bigger, extended version of Arrowtown. So of course…we had to check it out!
Breakfast at Tiffany’s? No. Breakkie in Quesnal. Yus!
Barkerville. It’s 1862. Things are old and have stayed that way for a long long time. It’s pretty cool.
At Barkerville you can attend a re-enactment of a court hearing OR…get a ‘painless’ tooth extraction. Hmmmmm.
The Barkerville Fire Station in 1862
Keep small children with you.
Women in Deployment
They say you can’t keep a good women down and the ladies that have joined us on this year’s deployment are definitely not those to stay behind in the shadows. Allison Ludlow, Carrie Lakin, Sonya Poplawski, Christine Tatterson and Karen Ismay bring with them talent, nerve, experience and the willingness to dedicate their time to help with the wildfire situation in Canada.
We’ve sat a few of our firefighters down to talk about why it is they put their hand up to come on board, what challenges they’ve faced, how camp life is, if there’ve been any funny moments and whether they would recommend deployments to other women in the service. Enjoy!
It seems surreal to be in such a beautiful country, alongside locals in a phenomenal fire crisis, who are still so friendly and helpful. Everyone is respectful. Looking back over 14 days of firefighting on Elephant Hill, the massive scale of operations on just one of the many current fires is extraordinary. Operations run like a well-oiled machine, problems are resolved quickly and it is easy to have faith in the Canadian and Kiwi fire-team leadership. Wi and Nigel seem to materialise just when you need them at fire camp, and nothing seems like too much trouble for them. Our 20 pack leaders have also been carefully selected for their skill set and they are fabulous in the most trying of circumstances. With the unpredictable nature of wind changes and fire behaviour, they've had to get us out quickly several times.
It’s surprising how much the little things matter like the familiar, comforting scent of your deodorant from home, the feel of chapstick on scorched lips and a decent cup of tea on R&R days.
If you are considering a deployment, be prepared for a mix of dust, dirt, smoke, missing the family, tears, daily bad hair, extremely quick girl-bush bathroom stops away from the guys - amongst displaced bears, rattle snakes and cougars, grateful locals, laughs and adventure. All of these things make the Canadian wildfires experience an incredible life experience – so go for it!
Bring on the next 14-day stint!
I can’t believe we’re already on our second tour here. It’s gone from quiet to full-on to not knowing where the hours go in the day. It’s my second deployment but my first to Canada and the people here are really friendly. I feel really comfortable around helicopters so when I’m down at the Heli base I can easily talk shop with the pilots and when they’re off flying the helicopters, I can mosey on down and talk shop with the engineers. It’s great!
Though I’m recently qualified as an Air Attack Supervisor (AAS), I didn’t come over here thinking my britches were big. When I arrived I had to learn about different air-craft as they’re bigger here (typical Canada) and they were unknown models to me. Thankfully I have a great learning tool called Google to help me research along with quick reference guides. Also – the Canadians have a different way of doing their work and trying to learn that has been great to pick up on.
I have to admit, Canadians think Kiwis speak fast and I’m slowly starting to believe it. Most times I have people squinty-eyeing me wondering what on earth I’m talking about. And it’s great to see how surprised they are when they learn there’s no dangerous animals in NZ.
This deployment I think of as ‘God’s Own Endurance Race’; remember to keep up your hygiene, clean your feet, eat properly and drink loads of water. If you can keep healthy then you can be on point for yourself and your team.
I would absolutely recommend for other women to put their hands up for a deployment. You learn so much in a short space of time and hey, it’s so much fun and the amount of laughs that’s had are too numerous to count, so give it a go!
I absolutely jumped at the chance to come to Canada. The experience so far has been incredibly rewarding! The Canadian wilderness provides some amazing encounters; moose, deer, snakes and of course bears. Probably one of the most challenging tasks is struggling to get your overalls off to pee when you are hot, sweaty, loaded with gear and looking over your shoulder for bears!
The Canadian people are so lovely. I had a gentleman in Vancouver who insisted on paying for my groceries! That was very humbling.
Here in Canada, I have been lucky enough to experience extreme fire behaviour at its finest but also lots of new techniques in firefighting. Some of them you think would be good at home, some not.
I am privileged to work with a fantastic crew; all 20 of them. Being the only woman I am not treated any differently nor do I expect to be. We have lots of laughs together which reminds us of the lighter side of life!
It is definitely a mental game coupled with the physical challenge. Fatigue is a battle of wills. Even the less desirable tasks become a test of concentration after 2 weeks on the fire line but we know the rest of the crew has 'got your back'.
What an experience! What an opportunity! Having been through personal tragedy myself I grab every day like it is my last; determined to make the most of opportunities placed in front of me. This experience is right up there!!!
It’s my first time on deployment and I couldn’t be more excited. As a logistics chief I have to make sure that we have enough resources, be that working staff on the field, making sure everything and anything is ordered (incl. pens and toilet paper) or setting up a new camp. And yes, I actually set up a new camp and it was awesome!
Honestly, I can be a little out of my comfort zone due to the size of everything – the camp, the province, the COUNTRY! This place is massive and it’s amazing to see how the Canadian teams handle it all. Trying to learn policies and procedures like who to go to sign for lease of land so we can get a camp site up and running can be challenging but having British Columbian locals around is a huge help. It’s a big learning curve and I’ve learned to ask ‘how long is something gonna take to get here.’ Back home it might take one day, but in Canada, due to the vastness and distance of our where we’re situated, it could take up to three days to arrive.
Camp life? Try Glamp life! It’s great in camp. I thought we’d be really roughing it but here, we have toilets with running water, full kitchens, laundry services – and it’s all at a really high standard. I sleep in a ranger tent that accommodates another five women and honestly, I prefer that as it’s bit hard to get dressed in a one-person tent, haha.
It only takes one big mistake to learn a lesson and for me, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I was at an intersection happily waiting for these trucks to go past so I could move on. After a minute I thought, why aren’t they moving? Well, I totally forgot that I was supposed to be driving on the right hand side of the road and they were, of course, waiting for me to get in the proper lane. Doh! Learnt that one quick I did.
I would absolutely recommend other women to come on a deployment. There are tough days yes, but there are a great bunch of people who help and support ya. You get so much experience and learn more on the job.
Snakes and cougars and bears, oh my.
At our day one briefing in Chilliwack we were shown a lovely video about bear attacks and what to do if you encounter one. It was set in the 90s so it was good to see the mullet in full effect, but it did educate us on why we should make noise when walking through the forests, like yelling ‘hey bear, ho bear.’ I kid you not. But, if it’s gonna help us save our life then we’ll ‘hey bear, ho bear’ any chance we can get.
Let’s take a look at what everyone has encountered since being here.
Roy meets Anaconda.
Saxon and the crew see a bear.
Steve seems to think something is there.
“Hey human, Ho human.”
Our fourth week already?! Crazy. I wonder if we can stay longer?
Next week we’ll continue to look at what the teams are getting up to, camp life, explain what it is our IMT actually do and we’ll feature a special guest as well. I might even throw in some Canadian slang; trying to teach them the definition of ‘yeah, nah’ to Canuks has been quite entertaining.
We all hope everyone is safe back home. Aroha nui ki a koutou.
Chur for now.