The 2017 Deployment team to Canada with the Canadian and British Columbian flags.
Well, we finally made it and I can tell you, we have our work cut out for us here in Canada. After 13 hours on a packed flight (honestly, I did not see a spare seat), the Incident Management Team (IMT) landed into a very smoky Vancouver at 2pm on Sunday 6th August. Our fire crews wouldn’t arrive till late that night as they flew from NZ via Los Angeles or San Francisco. For the majority of the team it is the first time to British Columbia and what a way to come! Coming into land and looking out the plane windows, we could tell straight away how hard the fires are affecting British Columbia. There was smoke everywhere and you could smell it when we left the airport. We quickly herded into a bus and 1.5 hours later we arrived at the training centre in Chilliwack where we would spend the next two days having a brief on the wildfire situation.
The first night was a good sleep…for some. I think the time difference made the body-clock of some a lil confused. While others slept like well-fed babies, some were up late probably asking themselves why they wouldn’t fall asleep. Let’s remember – Vancouver is 19 hours behind New Zealand. Thankfully though, the training centre was incredible; home-made burgers were on the menu the first night along with a generous helping of desserts.
What has been noticeable is the amount of Canadians that have been coming up to us, shaking our hands and thanking us for coming over to help. It really cements how big the situation is with the wildfires. So it was back to school for all of us on our first day with a full briefing of the wildfire situation. As of 10 August, there have been 954 fires with 148 still burning. It is estimated that 621,583 hectares has been burnt which is about 3x the size of Stewart Island. About 3,775 personnel are working across the province of British Columbia, including 764 who have come from out of province, which includes international deployments like us. In effect…we’re very much needed here and we’re all stoked to be here.
Back to school for the Deployment Team – Briefing day at Chilliwack Training Centre.
Flying in style – Canadian Hercules
Wiping the sleep from our eyes we were told that to get to our next destination we would have to fly again. We all expected this but our eyes widened a bit more when we were told that we would get there by taking a ride in an actual HERCULES. We bussed to Abbotsford, just south of Chilliwack, and watched (and clicked many a photo) of the Hercules coming into the base. Again, for the majority of us, it would be the first time hitching a ride on the beast. We thank the Canadian military for allowing us the honour of taking us as it was a true pleasure to fly with them.
After 45-50 mins in the air we touched down in Prince George, BC which is north to northeast of Vancouver. From here we boarded another bus and made our way, about 30 mins, to the University of Northern British Columbia so that we could pick up the utes (or pickups in Canuk speak). The University staff were so kind to give us lunch and we appreciated the hospitality and good banter.
The Incident Management Team (IMT) travelled to Lake Williams Fire Camp, 1.5 hours, to be briefed before travelling another 2.5 hours onto Lake Puntzi Fire Camp which is where they are now based. Arriving late into the night (9.30pm), putting up tents in dark made for quite the show, especially for the flying bugs who welcomed us with their annoying presence.
The region has, at present, four major fires and the IMT are shadowing their Canadian counterparts learning what their roles will do for the region. The Canadians transfer out on Sunday in which the Kiwis will then manage the area.
We are all very eager to get stuck into it.
All is accounted for, fighting well and coming back safely.
So that’s what’s happened during our first week here in Canada. It’s been full on and the body clock is finally catching up with us. We’re adjusting to working long hours but we’re here and proud to be here.
Coming up in the next deployment newsletter we’ll look at the fire camps, the (smoky) weather, have some interviews with our crew members and of course, more photos to gawk at.
Stay safe. Stay warm. Kia Kite.
New Zealand Information Officer
Fire and Emergency NZ
Rotorua crew from left: Anthony Young, Roy Toia, Andy Uhl, Ray Doyle, Stu Lyall.