Kevin Donaldson. Photo supplied.Two Mid Canterbury firefighters have returned safely to their families after helping to tackle blazes in Canada that “made the Port Hills fire look like a little barbecue”.
Alford Forest deputy fire force controller Nathan Currie and Timaru senior station officer Kevin Donaldson were among a contingent of 80 Kiwi firefighters deployed to help tackle severe wildfires in British Columbia, which scorched more than 200,000 hectares of forest.
The gruelling trip involved 12 to 15-hour working days and temperatures of up to 41°C.
Firefighters worked 14 days, had a two-day break, and then worked another 14 days, and were accommodated in tents at a site near Kamloops.
Currie said he lost around six kilograms during his time working in Canada, but had gained a lot in the way of knowledge and newfound respect for the power of nature. “I’ve never seen anything of that size and I probably never will again.”
Alongside the flames and heat, the firefighters had to negotiate unfamiliar and often tricky terrain, keep an eye out for black bears and snakes, and familiarise themselves with escape routes from the flames.
“You’ve really got to have your wits about you. You can’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Currie said.
Donaldson said the arduous work, early starts and constant hazards made for immense fatigue. “By the last three or four days, if you even stood still you might just fall asleep,” he said.
Both firefighters said they had brushed up their rural firefighting skills significantly and described the trip as a “great experience” overall.
“It was absolutely amazing, and there was really good camaraderie between all the firefighters,” Currie said.
“It was a real privilege to be selected. A lot of firefighters would have loved to have gone,” Donaldson said.
He was also hugely grateful for the sacrifices and efforts put in by the families of those who went, including his wife Glenda who had been tackling lambing season on their Ashburton lifestyle block.
Firefighters were only given about three days’ notice before departing to Canada at the start of August.
“I would do it again though,” Donaldson said.
By Katie Todd © The Ashburton Guardian - 21 September 2017