US fire crew here to learn

Department of Conservation Wakatipu rural fire officer Jamie Cowan (right) tells  visiting...
Department of Conservation Wakatipu rural fire officer Jamie Cowan (right) tells visiting American firefighters (from left) Pat Chism, Thane Shetler, Jaime Sarabia, Kyle Gardner and Bob Johnson about the department's suppression techniques within Queenstown's "red zone", which includes Ben Lomond mountain. Photo by James Beech
Rural firefighting techniques are being shared by visiting American firefighters and their counterparts in the Department of Conservation (Doc) this week.

Five firefighters from the forest and alpine state of Washington arrived in Queenstown on Sunday and will work and discuss practices with Doc and rural firefighters in the Wakatipu and Central Otago over the next two weeks.

The informal exchange programme sprang from an open invitation issued when firefighters from both nations worked together in 2008.

Doc Otago deputy principal rural fire officer Trevor Mitchell, of Dunedin, and Doc Wakatipu rural fire officer Jamie Cowan yesterday explained to the group about the risk of fire in the vulnerable "red zone" of densely forested mountains above Queenstown on Ben Lomond and west on terraces above the road to Glenorchy which hold residential suburbs Alpine Retreat and Closeburn.

Senior firefighter Kyle Gardner, of Entiat, said yesterday he and his colleagues were learning valuable alternative field techniques. A session of wilding pine clearing was coming up.

"It's different fuels, different topography. We haven't got on any fire yet, but they use a lot more water than we do," Mr Gardner said.

"They have a lot of the same situations, the real hot and dry areas and we have fire dangers and extreme fire dangers.

"The whole fire command system is basically the same, which makes it nice for New Zealand firefighters."


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