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2475 Letheby 5
2475 Letheby 1By ERWIN CHLANDA
“If I’m asked I’d go again in a heartbeat,” says Alice Springs Fire Southern Command manager David Letheby, after helping to fight the worst fires in the history of Canada’s British Columbia.
In his six week deployment with more the 1000 firefighters from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico he worked with these countries’ top crews as 100 fires burned across 1.1 million hectares.
His specialist skills as a Certified Incident Controller – currently there are just 38 of them in Australia – enabled him to be selected for the first deployment. His team dealt with four major fires: “We contained three. One is still burning. It will until it snows.”
Australia helped out with 50 firefighters. Mr Letheby, who has just returned, was the only one from the NT.
Australia utilises a management scheme called AIIMS (Australasian Interservice Incident Management System). This is similar to the system used in North America and other countries so it enables firefighters to fit into operations in a number of countries and be operational in a very short time.
2475 Letheby 3“Canada has Unit Crews,” he says. “These are teams consisting of 20 elite fire fighters with a super ‘can do’attitude. Give them a challenge and away they go.
“You work, eat and sleep firefighting. You work 14 days straight, 12 to 14 hours a day. You get two days, we were positioned at a Ski Resort for rest and recuperation, then it’s back to the fire, full on for another 14 days.”
Because of the heavily timbered terrain there are few trucks, unlike in Australia. All firefighting is done by either aircraft, heavy machinery or ground crews whose firefighters move on foot.
At one fire, 60 kilometres of hoses were laid, pumping water from streams and lakes.
Heavy bombers and helicopters are used for aerial combat of the flames.
Mr Letheby and his team slept in tents for a week, then in one of the camps set up once the firefighters’ number reaches 80.
2475 Letheby 4His job was to develop action plans, mapping, setting objectives, strategy, coordinating heavy machinery, aircraft and firefighting crews.
“Working and making life-long friends with some of the world’s best incident managers and firefighters was an unforgettable experience,” he says.
PICTURED from left: Dave Rankin (NSW), Art Westerhaigh (Canada – he paid for the drinks on the last night) and Mr Letheby.


  1. Hello Erwin, what a surprise to see that Alice Springs was represented in the group of firefighters who came over here this past summer. I knew there were Australians here but did not expect there would be a firefighter from Alice.
    When Mr Letheby was coordinating the aerial attacks on the fires he may not have known that the Superintendent of the Provincial Airtanker Program is Michael Benson, grandson of Bob and Vicki Darken (both deceased) of Alice Springs. Mike works out of Kamloops so they may have met.
    At last there are only a few remote fires burning as the weather cools and rain has fallen.
    There were up to 40,000 people evacuated or on alert and many businesses relying on summer activity lost income. Residents of others parts of the Province (especially the area around Vancouver) are being encouraged to travel to the fire-effected areas to stay at the lodges and campgrounds to provide income for those who lost so much in their usually busy summer season.
    I live near Vancouver so we were only effected by smoke when the winds changed from the normal south westerly direction to north easterly – the first time for two weeks at the end of July then a week at the beginning of September. Each time, as the winds changed back to normal, we’d have a light rainfall then the clear, sunny skies returned. It was an amazing summer for us on the coast with day after day of sunshine for two months!
    It’s still great but the temperatures are cooler – much like when I was in Alice in September in 2014.
    I hope Mr Letheby will come back to BC on holiday some time so he can appreciate the Province as it can be in good times – May or September are less busy but still generally good weather.
    It’s called Beautiful British Columbia for good reason!

  2. A special hello to Miss Tourism 1967, Central Australia’s first tourist queen!
    Wow, two months of sunshine without rain during the summer in Vancouver – meanwhile, last week we had a tantalising sprinkle of rain in Alice Springs for the first time since the beginning of February.
    I bet that brings back some memories for you, Ursula.
    Great to hear from you.


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