Two firefighters from Puhoi Volunteer Fire Brigade have returned from a 36-day stint in British Columbia, Canada battling the worst wildfires in the province’s history.
Mike Donovan and Rob Beardmore joined crews from the US and Mexico to help the Canadians fight 600 fires spread across 1800km of rugged and often remote terrain.
“Their wildfires are like nothing you’d see here. The number of structures threatened is enormous, so it’s all hands to the pump,” Mike said. “Some of them burn for months, but the fires we left were in a good state, at the mopping up stage, and all the big fires are now controlled and contained.”
Mike was the leader of a crew of six Auckland firefighters deployed to Canada, who worked two gruelling 14-day rotations – 14 to 15-hour days for two weeks solid.
He said the Kiwis were highly valued by the Canadians, and this was his second trip to help with their large-scale summer wildfires.
“You use your skill sets to the max, which you don’t often get the chance to do here, and you bring back a lot of new skills, too,” he said. “There’s a lot of digging, back-burning and dry firefighting techniques that we don’t use in New Zealand.
“I’m a brigade training officer, so will utilise what we’ve learned from this experience and work with our brigade to implement some of it.”
The NZ crew stayed in a camp in the village of Fraser Lake, more than 900km north of Vancouver. While the weather was warm at first, by the time Mike and Rob returned home, the nights were getting distinctly chilly, with water freezing in firehoses overnight. The firefighters saw black bear, moose and beaver in the course of their work, but it was the people’s welcome that stood out most.
“The people are just so friendly and make you feel so much at home,” Mike said. “They’re the memories you carry.”