The fires in British Columbia have been unlike anything we have ever seen before.
A month ago - we got the call. We got the call to come over to help relieve the wildfire situation within the province. We got the call and we came.
One aspect we did not expect, nor could we comprehend, was the enormity of the situation. The fires that have ravaged this beautiful land were on another level. To say it was massive is an understatement; even looking at them from the chopper, you just can’t believe what your eyes are seeing at times. It’s terrifying and yet, it’s a wonder to look at.
On one side, being here is a labour of love for us - it would allow us to help protect the communities and livelihoods of those who dwell here. The other, an opportunity to learn more about our skills. After all, it’s what we’ve trained for. And we’re happy to be here to help as much as we can.
There are fires that have been put out. There are fires that are still going. But that’s the reality of the situation. But what has been incremental in our time here so far, has been the support and care that we’ve passed to each other and shared to us from the Canuks that live here.
Everyone’s in it together, and so we go in together and come back safely… together.
Crews on R&R
As promised, below are some pics from the crew’s time on their R&R. They ventured into Kamloops which is located 1.5 hours from where they are based at Clinton Fire Camp. With a population of 90,000 people, I just hope they were ready for the influx of 60 kiwis that arrived into their town. I can only imagine the sea of black shirts parading down the street while, I’m guessing, singing a mis-quoted rendition of Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Slice of Heaven’. Dah dah dah.
Kamloops is quite the picturesque place surrounded by sandstone canyons, grasslands and evergreen timberlands and also plays host to incredible hiking, mountain biking and camping locations. So, by default, the teams should feel right at home.
Vistas from Sun Peaks resort, close to Kamloops.
Checking out a football match. Or is it gridiron?
Crews were welcomed back on to the fireline at Elephant Hill with a front that came through that started with increased wind, rain and then…winter. 25 degrees down to 3 with hail flurries and in places…snow. NZ crews were caught out by the drastic change in temperature. These photos are provided by Hayden Bain FPS crew leader while Mohi Kingi from Whangarei looks on in disbelief.
So long, farewell and kia kite to the lushness of hotel living as we re-packed our bags and stocked our pick-ups to make our way back to fire camp for tour number two.
From left: Alison Ludlow, Tim Allen Crew Leader, Hamish Hinara, Owen Taumua, and Kevin Hodges. After a cold start to the second rotation things are starting to warm up in earnest. Crews will be patrolling and reinforcing fire guards and extending blacked out areas.
From left: Andrew Lenox, Marcus Legget, the tallest and having to kneel Trent Dravitzki, Crew Leader and Task Force Leader Nathan Jones and Blair Gray. Fueling up at the Big Sky servo enroute to another day on the fireline. The crew hope to finish the work in their area and be reassign to another locality.
From left: John Taylor, Aubrey Rikihana, Karen (Im loving it) Ismay, Crew Leader Blair Williams and Matt Page. A beautiful crisp morning to be heading out on to the fireline, it has been cooler in the mornings indicating the change in season but it can still get very hot during the peak of the day and as we have found out the hard way, you have to dress for all seasons as we got caught in sleet on our return fron R&R.
We hand crafted a wharf out of felled and burnt trees so we could pump out of the lake!
Mike Donovan, Saxon Ross, Graham McIntyre, Simon Stoddart & Gavin Brunton.
From left; Anthony Young, Crew leader Andreas (I need to paddle) Uhl, Raymond Doyle, Roy Toia and Stu Lyall.
This magnificent back drop is their office for the day’s activity. Through firefighter’s efforts the surrounding areas have been cleared of smoke and we can now see the magnificent vistas Canada has to offer. Andy Uhl is a renowned kayaker and rafter in NZ, so to get the opportunity to get wet in Canada was a dream come true for him on this deployment.
From left: Crew Leader Ben Douglas, Sam De Reeper and Sonya Poplawski relax on their camp chairs in preparation for the day’s work ahead. Other crews in the background not so comfortable.
Flashing light to distinguish where my tent is at night!
Grant Big boy Tremain - with his big toys
Task Force Bravo have been redeployed to Division Foxtrot in the North. This sits alongside Task Force Charlie in Division Echo. Both are looking forward to today's firefighting as a result of the breakout nearby. This brings a change in tactics from the recent blackening out which the crews have been doing since returning from R&R. More FLAMES more excitement.
Andy Uhl finds this mesmerising cauldron of a hot spot whilst patrolling his section of the fire guard with his Rotorua crew.
Don’t fret – you can charge your phone at the charge station. Laundry – same day service. And it comes back folded!
Elephant Hill fire complex makes a run in the North due to extreme fire weather conditions.All crews were briefed by the Ops Manager and advised of the tasks and late nights ahead to bring this outbreak, back under control. Crews were assisted yesterday by air tanker operations and this continues today along with heli support like the attached photo showing refilling of the helicopter water tanks by this syphon tube. Photo provided by Steve Ochsner.
Shots taken near Big Sky fire camp, looking toward the camp Northward (top) and South (below) up the valley toward Cache Creek. The scale of the terrain is epic and as you can see the tinder dry.
It was an absolute thrill to have Abi come all the way over to Canada to see the teams and also, to acknowledge all the hard work she put in to organise all of us in getting over here. Incredible work matey!
This interview was conducted at Williams Lake fire camp on a hot August day. While the sun blinded our eyes, the smell of the porta potties being emptied wafted in the air. Awesome.
My partner said I looked like a goldfish. When Kevin O’Connor called me on Saturday afternoon, I was chilling out at home recovering from organising the deployment. So when he said to me, you’re going over, no jokes, my partner looked at me and said I looked like a goldfish. It was the first time I can safely say, I was speechless.
It’s my second time out on a deployment internationally, but my first time to Canada and I’m honoured to be here. Canada is like New Zealand, but bigger, ya know. (Nice observation Abi).
When I arrived into Kamloops, the crews were on their R&R and I went with some of them to watch a university gridiron game. It is gridiron right? I think I was quite popular with the locals as I kept asking questions throughout the game like why did they have three parts to one team; offensive, defensive and…um….
I then travelled up to Williams Lake with Wi to see the IMT. I stayed in the ranger with the other ladies and went out on a chopper ride with Christine to look at the fires that the IMT are managing. My thoughts? The scale of the fires is epic and seeing the destruction is sad and disheartening. You can still smell the smoke and see the impact of where the lightning struck. There’s so much brown and it’s all so dry.
The camp is so impressive; such fantastic facilities. Put your laundry out, ½ a day – it’s back…folded. Amazing. Honestly, seeing tent city, the trailers, how it’s all laid out and how it all operates first hand is really cool. It’s a well-oiled machine that fully supports the crews and management team that stay here.
I look around and everyone is doing an amazing job. IMT. Crews. Liaisions. The whole team. And it’s great to hear senior members impressed with the newbies. It’s also incredible to see that everyone is having a good time and enjoying it; everyone is working in their elements and it’s quite motivational.
I’m proud to see all the kiwis getting stuck in and I know their families are proud. Every single one of the crew works and IMT members should feel proud as well for their work has been incredible.
It’s been brought to our attention that some of our wonderful readers are a little unsure what it is the Incident Management Team do while over here in Canada. And you know what, that’s a fair question to ask.
The Incident Management Team is responsible for managing a fire camp, those who dwell there (firefighters & staff), and also managing the fire operations that are in their allocated area.
This will be the final newsletter that will be coming out for the deployment team to Canada. By the time you receive this, the IMT and crews will be gearing down and getting ready to demobilise back home.
It’s strange to look back and think that the time has gone fast. In some respects, I suppose it has. The long days and nights moulded into each other where I suspect is when time became lost to us. And yet, there were times when our departure to come home felt so distant and incomprehensible even to our imagination.
We were here because we wanted to be here. And, as we told many Canuks, we were happy to be here. We wanted to help out as best as we can. We’ve met some great people along the way and have swapped lots of swag (patches, shirts etc) with some new-found friends. New abdominal muscles have been created from the laughs had and weight has been gained by the incredible food at the fire camps.
The experience has been, well, a greatly appreciated opportunity.
As the crews would like to say:
We feel extremely privileged to be selected for this deployment by Fire and Emergency NZ and hope to have upheld the tradition of previous teams deployed overseas in proudly representing our country. We acknowledge all the other people who had put their names forward but missed out on this, the biggest deployment to Canada.
We would also like to acknowledge those left at home; our families, partners and friends and the difficulties they endured to allow us this fantastic opportunity to ply our trade and to learn and compare our skills against other crews from all over the world. We send our love and heartfelt thanks to you all. We will all be home to see you soon.
Our fire crew, on the line ready for work
Firstly, we thank Fire and Emergency NZ for selecting each of us. It was a complete honour to come over and be a part of this experience and to help out our Northern friends in their time of need. We are all each, very appreciative to be chosen to come over here and know that we have upheld the same respect, ethics and morals that were established by previous deployment teams.
We may have brought our individual talents to the team, but we’ve definitely learnt a lot on this deployment through our fellow teammates, interacting with our international counterparts and of course, those we work with every day. Without them, our success would mean little.
Lastly, to talk to those around the camps, meet firefighters on the line, chat with the public in the streets – we’ve seen first-hand how appreciative the Canadians have been. And we know that our time here was an effective one as we worked hard together to help with the wildfire situation.