Kiwis to help contain wildfires in Canada

New Zealand rural fire specialists will help contain the wildfires in Canada. Photo by Reuters.
New Zealand rural fire specialists will help contain the wildfires in Canada. Photo by Reuters.
Kiwi rural fire specialists will fly to Canada today to help that country contain huge wildfires.

The specialists come from locations across New Zealand including Dunedin, Nelson, Queenstown, Whakatane and Blenheim.

They will fly out to Vancouver this evening before heading to Edmonton, the capital of Alberta.

National Rural Fire Officer Kevin O'Connor said the group included planning, logistics, radio, safety, finance, fire behaviour and aircraft supervisory staff.

The group would spend about five weeks working to contain fires in Alberta. Canadians, Mexicans, Americans and Australians would also be working to fight fires in the area.

The province, far inland, had a continental climate with extremely cold winters but very hot summers.

Mr O'Connor said the situation was volatile, with 20 new fires reported in Alberta over the past 24 hours.

He said lightning strikes were believed to have caused about 85 per cent of the latest wildfires.

"It's very hot and dry ... a lot of these fires are starting from significant thunderstorms."

Local media said Edmonton had experienced a heat wave in recent days with temperatures simmering above 30C.

The Edmonton Journal said about 1000 people were evacuated from Jasper National Park late last week, where a blaze was burning across 1000ha.

Northern Alberta's coniferous forests were quite different from the vegetation Kiwis were used to, Mr O'Connor said.

He said the 16 New Zealanders would gain much experience and knowledge from the trip.

The team would likely stay in "tent camps" in rural areas.

"They may be out in small settlements or they may be out in the bush."

Mr O'Connor said the only other time National Rural Fire Authority (NRFA) staff went to Canada was in 2009, but staff had worked with Canadians on previous deployments to Australia.

The NRFA said about 800,000ha of forest were burning across Alberta, the prairie province of Saskatchewan, the Pacific province of British Columbia, and across the US-Canadian border in Alaska.

Mr O'Connor said one of the ongoing wildfires was raging across 100,000ha, or 1000sq km.

The NRFA said Kiwi firefighters had helped their counterparts in Australia nine times and their American counterparts five times over the past 15 years.

Mr O'Connor said the Canadians would cover the cost of the trip.

"We have an agreement with Canada ... that we just refresh every year, that means we can call on the Canadians or they can call on us, and the host agency picks up the costs of the deployment."

Mr O'Connor said 35 days was a fairly standard time for a North American deployment. He said deployments to Australia normally lasted a fortnight.

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