Whanganui rural firefighter Blair Gray planned to run the Taupo marathon on Saturday.

That was before he got the call to join firefighters in Canada where more than 1.2 million hectares has been devastated by fire.

"I got the call on Wednesday and I am a bit gutted that I missed the marathon but my feelings of being able to help out in Canada are beyond words," said Mr Gray.

"I have spent the last few days completing the paperwork and doing fitness tests to make sure I'm ready."


Mr Gray, 31, is one of 80 New Zealanders including firefighters from Fire and Emergency, the Department of Conservation and forestry contractors flying to Vancouver on a five-week mission to provide relief to Canadian firefighters stretched to capacity.

Regional Rural Fire and Emergency co-ordinator Gavin Pryce said it was a rare opportunity for a rural firefighter to be selected for a mission like this one.

"It is not something that any firefighter can do and Blair has been selected because of his stamina.

"The firefighters will be working 14-hour days for a 14-day period so they need to be resilient.

"The New Zealanders will work in 12 teams of five in British Columbia where the fires are at their worst."

Mr Gray said this is his first overseas deployment although he had the experience of helping out in Christchurch during the Port Hills fires in February this year.

"You think about how devastating something like that would be if it happened in this region," he said.

"I feel privileged to be able to help."


British Columbia is Canada's westernmost province and the fires are the worst seen in the area since the 1950s.

New Zealand Fire and Emergency national manager rural Kevin O'Connor said the New Zealand contingent would be lending their specialist support.

"Our fire crews and incident management team members have a range of skills in high demand during lengthy firefighting operations.

"These include experience in logistics, communications, ferrying supplies into remote locations, and the use of aircraft."

Although Mr Gray is single, he said family and friends are a bit nervous for him.

"They are happy for me because they know it is something I really want to do and I've assured them that I won't put myself in danger.

"I am trained to keep myself safe."

The New Zealand contingent are joining the 3000-plus people and 200 planes currently engaged in the British Columbia operation.