Learning curve for local flame-tamers

Forestry and rural firefighters have returned from helping to douse fires on Great Barrier Island with a lot more knowledge on how bush fires work and dealing with the aftermath of such devastation of the land.

Lake Okareka rural volunteer firefighter Philip Muldoon, Timberlands firefighters Steve Gatenby and Jeremy Cox, CNI forestry firefighter Nino Macayyag and CTL forestry firefighter Aaron Rewcastle spent eight days on the island helping widen and clear firebreaks, keep an eye on hotspots and mop up after the out of control fire whipped through 120ha of remote bush.

Mr Muldoon and Mr Gatenby told The Daily Post the experience was invaluable in helping them understand bush fires and how they worked.

They spent much of their time mopping up and checking where firefighters had put out flames, Mr Muldoon said.

"You'd think it was fine and suddenly there would be a flare-up ... there were a lot of hotspots and cleaning up to do."

They helped widen firebreaks to contain the fire to the one area. While they might have thought some fires were completely out at times, they would suddenly flare up from inside a burnt tree or bush, Mr Gatenby said.

They had the help of thermal imaging cameras to detect heat spots, he said.

"We were crawling through the undergrowth. There was a lot of ash and smoke ... It was quite frustrating. We'd get through one area and think it was okay and then it would suddenly flare up again ... It was quite scary."

The exercise was an important learning curve, he said.

"We got to work with other organisations ... We are learning more about fire behaviour and different fuel types."

They worked long hours on the island with the local people pulling out all the stops to ensure they were well fed and rested, said Mr Muldoon.

"The hospitality was incredible. We had so much crayfish ... The people were really lovely."

As for their regular jobs, they were grateful to their employers for allowing them to go and to attend courses so they could tackle any blaze in the Rotorua community, he said. "They've spent a lot of time and money training us and giving us the time off work."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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