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Our man Craig helps tackle Canada’s wildfires

One of Wairarapa’s own has been in the thick of the extreme wildfires currently raging in Canada – both lending a hand and learning how to manage such events.

Fire and Emergency [Fenz] Wairarapa group manager Craig Cottrill has just completed a two-week deployment and said it’s been an “amazing learning experience”.

He was stationed in the Donnie Creek Complex in British Columbia and was one of two New Zealanders shadowing Canada’s Type 1 Incident Controller.

“We’re getting a better idea of how Canada manages large wildfires,” said Cottrill.

“We’ve also been lucky enough a couple of times to get out on the fire as well and work with some of the Canadian crews.”

Cottrill said there’s a focus on the incident management process and addressing large fires that “you can’t whip three or four lengths of hose around”.

The 571,184 hectare Donnie Creek Complex currently has a status of “out of control”, with three fires blazing within it.

“Canada has what you call a winter drought so there wasn’t a lot of moisture in the environment,” said Cottrill.

“The vegetation is really dry. Lightning can strike a fire, and it starts so far away from a road that it might burn for quite some time before it’s discovered.”

Because of this, Cottrill said there’s a huge need for intelligence gathering on the fires to determine effective emergency strategies.

“These fires will probably burn until winter,” said Cottrill.

Due to stretched resourcing and the size of the country, Cottrill said a crucial part of emergency management is making sure water is only being taken to fires where it will be effective.

“Our job is to minimize the economic damage of each fire. We only fight fires where we know we’re going to get a win.”

Cottrill said these decisions often come down to economic or cultural values.

“There’s a reasonable amount of intelligence gathering in helicopters simply because of the size of the fire and the country,” Cottrill said.

“The big focus there is balancing your suppression activities with the values at risk.”

Already thinking about applying what he’s learnt in a New Zealand context, Cottrill said the indirect strategies of managing fires could prove valuable to Wairarapa.

“If we had a crowning fire in a commercial forestry, we would use those indirect tactics to stop the movement of the fire and minimize the economic damage,” said Cottrill.

“There’s also a lot of Wairarapa that’s a reasonable distance from the road.”

Cottrill is due to return to Wairarapa today.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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