Another group off to help fight Canada fires

An Otago and Southland contingent of firefighters left for Canada yesterday to help battle...
An Otago and Southland contingent of firefighters left for Canada yesterday to help battle wildfires devastating parts of the country. Pictured are (back from left) Pete Leckie (Dunedin), Keri Tuna (Invercargill), Chris McLeod (Dunedin), Ken Keenan (Invercargill), (front from left) Ewan Richmond (Alexandra) and Tony Smith (Clyde). PHOTO: FIRE AND EMERGENCY NEW ZEALAND
A second group of Otago and Southland firefighters are stepping up to support their Canadian counterparts.

The six firefighters from Dunedin, Invercargill and Central Otago are part of a 21-strong group of New Zealand firefighting personnel who left for Alberta yesterday.

They follow 25 Kiwi firefighters who left two weeks ago.

Unseasonably warm and dry weather has seen Canada’s wildfire season start earlier than predicted, leaving western provinces Alberta, and neighbouring British Columbia battling devastating blazes.

Large wildfires are also burning across the area just north of the US-Canada border and in the east in Nova Scotia.

Conditions have been challenging, with high temperatures combining with moderate to strong winds.

Dunstan firefighters Tony Smith, of Clyde, and Ewan Richmond, of Alexandra, are no strangers to international deployments - both have previously fought wildfires in Australia

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times from Auckland yesterday before they flew out, both said they were looking forward to the experience.

A veteran firefighter of 25 years, Mr Smith said he felt "quite relaxed".

"I’m probably not going to be once we touch down in Vancouver - that will just feel a bit more real," he said.

"At the moment we don’t exactly know what we’re doing, what area we’re going to be [in] ... I think things are quite fluid over there at the moment."

For Mr Richmond, the five-week deployment will be the longest he has spent away from his wife Tracy.

"She’s been really supportive — both my kids are really excited for me going too," he said.

"I’ve got a few nerves but when we get there it will be fine."

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) deputy national commander Steph Rotarangi said the new contingent would be firefighting in tough conditions, for long hours.

Fenz took the responsibility of providing international firefighting support seriously, but also saw value in using it to improve firefighters’ skills, she said.

"When we deploy internationally and provide help to other countries, we also benefit a lot.

"These deployments are extremely valuable for our firefighters and firefighting specialists. It gives them experience in different environments that they can bring back home."