The Star: June 22, 2017


The Star Latest Christchurch news at www. .kiwi

Thursday June 22 2017 9

White House

Port Hills fire cost $4.5m

The Oval Office, where she was

invited to photograph President

Obama sign important documents,

was smaller than she had

always imagined, she said.

The amount of security checks

and clearances she had to go

through to first be approved and

then to enter the White House

grounds were also something she

had never experienced before, she


She was working there when

Donald Trump became president,

and said the atmosphere completely

changed as he replaced

most staff, right from the security

to the interns.

“I think the new administration

coming in weren’t fully prepared,

they didn’t have the same

political background. Everyone

was polite but it was chaotic.

They’re obviously still finding

their feet,” she said.

Ms Wilding’s background is in

the film industry, and she spent

some time living in LA before

moving to Washington DC – but

she said Hollywood was “child’s

play” compared with work in the

White House.

She said many correspondents

there had worked in the White

House for 20 or 30 years, and

breaking in as a New Zealander

was very difficult.

“You do feel like a minority,

and realise we are from a very

small country that doesn’t make

much difference. They’d rather

answer a question from someone

from Korea, because of the importance

of the relations there, or

from one of the five major American

networks,” she said.




Wilding said



was never

afraid to get

her hands

dirty, even

in the White




fires cost the Department of

Conservation more than $4.5


Two fires, several kilometres

apart, started in early February

this year; two days later they

had combined. Helicopter pilot

and ex-SAS soldier Steve Askin

died when his chopper crashed

trying to fight the fires. Nine

houses were destroyed and two

were significantly damaged.

Hundreds of people were evacuated.

DOC spokesman Andy

Roberts said the department

contributed more than $3.5

million in operational costs and

$1 million in staff and other

internal costs. This amounted to

about half of last year’s firefighting

costs of $8.7 million.

The department supplied

more than 130 fully trained

rural firefighters, including fire

behaviour experts, air attack

managers and sector leaders

during the fires, which started

in February and burned for two


“If we add in time spent on

aerial mapping, incident planning

and other background

support roles, that would come

to more than 11,000 hours of

DESTRUCTION: A helicopter battles the fire with a monsoon



staff time, some of whom were

on duty for up to 15 hours a day.

This all amounts to about 50 per

cent of the total costs incurred

on the Port Hills fires, which

destroyed some 1660ha.”

DOC has to respond to fires

within a 1km margin of protected

areas. No public conservation

land was burned in the Port

Hills fire.

DOC had also helped

fight major fires at Broken

River, Hawkes Bay, Hanmer and

Queenstown during last summer’s

fire season. More than 460

staff are fully trained to fight

fires on or near conservation


“DOC will always have an interest

in rural fire and the threat

it poses to the natural and heritage

values that DOC is charged

with protecting.

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