We’re now just over a week into our deployment to the United States to help combat the fires ravaging the northern parts of California and it’s been a challenging, but rewarding experience.
The weather is hot, the days are long and the fires are big. The Mendocino Complex Fire, which is actually two neighbouring fires, is now the largest wildfire in Californian history. It has burnt more than 330,000 acres.
The Carr Fire menacing the city of Redding has burnt more than 200,000 acres.
First stop for us was the National Interagency Fire Center at Boise, Idaho, where old hands were reacquainted with the way they do things here and newcomers got their first instruction on dealing with bears. “If it’s brown lie down, if it’s black fight back.” Not everybody was entirely convinced by the advice.
Hopefully more useful was getting to grips with the difference in terminology. In New Zealand a tanker is a vehicle which holds water which comes to you on the fire ground. In the US a tanker is a large water dumping aircraft which dumps a massive amount of water in one go. It doesn’t pay to mix them up.
Presently we have 25 people overseeing heli and ground operations at the Mendocino Complex Fire and eight working on the Carr Fire. Two of our team have been deployed to Washington where they are managing ground crews fighting the Crescent Mountain Fire. At the end of each day we return to camp where we are housed in tents. The food is meat and two veg. The good news is there is plenty of it. We are settling into a routine. Wake, eat, organise, get briefed, head out for the day, work, return to camp, debrief, eat, shower, sleep. Do it all again. It’s hot, tiring work, but satisfying to be able to make a difference.
A special thanks - We want to say thank you to Novotel at Auckland Airport which, at short notice, rearranged bookings so we could use their venues to brief departing personnel and even waived the cost.
Messages of Thanks - Here are two of hundreds of thank you messages coming in from around the world
“As a resident of the State of California, I wish to THANK the members of the Fire and Emergency NZ for traveling over 8,000 miles to help fight the largest fire in California’s history. Your compassion gives a whole new meaning to “mutual aid”. May all firefighters return home safely to their loved ones. THANK YOU MORE THAN I CAN EXPRESS!” - Marilyn Schneider, Auburn California
“I live 15 miles (24km) from the largest fire in the state of California (USA). On behalf of the residents of Lake & Mendocino Counties in California, USA, I offer the inadequate words “Thank you for your help”. You will always have our support and undying gratitude.” - Phaedra Swearengin, USA