Local firefighters have joined fatigued crews in Australia battling multiple blazes which have claimed the lives of four people.
Deputy principal rural fire officer Chris Hayles, Rarangi fire fighter Alister Neal and Northbank fire fighter Roland Mapp have flown into New South Wales.
The brave trio will join thousands of fire crew deployed to the area as the state continues to be plagued by tinder dry conditions.
FENZ Marlborough principal rural fire officer John Foley says the move comes as Australia-based fire crew put the call out for help.
“They’re not going over to put fires out but to give others a break. There are some who will have lost houses and not even know it yet.
“They need a break to go back home to family and if we can do that then we’re doing our job,” he says.
Chris has done several overseas deployments already.
He will help head-air attack which means flying at higher altitudes in a helicopter above the fire to direct others to key locations.
“He’ll spend the day in the air attack platform above it [the fire] and direct where others need to go. It’s a pretty high stress job, got to keep everyone safe and look after himself,” says John.
Horrific bushfires have plagued the area since September with the death toll rising to four.
The New Zealand contingent of six four-person crews, one task force leader and a liaison officer (25 men and one woman) arrived in Sydney on Sunday evening, before being deployed to fires around the state.
These crews are in addition to the 25 New Zealand Fire and Emergency personnel already in Australia assisting with air attack, heavy machinery, safety and deployment coordination.
The burnt area statewide now covers more than 1,650,000 hectares – more than during the past three bushfire seasons combined.
NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said 476 homes had been destroyed, with firefighters on Sunday tackling 56 fires, 27 of which were uncontained.
A state of fire emergency has been called.
Nearly 500 homes have been lost in New South Wales in this bushfire season to date, the Rural Fire Service has confirmed yesterday.
“Fighting fires of this magnitude is a hugely demanding task and we’re happy to continue to support our Australian colleagues when called upon,” says National Manager Response Capability, Fire and Emergency New Zealand Paul Turner.
“They’re tough firefighting conditions over there at the moment. The hot, very dry and windy conditions are causing extreme wildfire behaviour.”
But John says the firefighters did not hesitate to volunteer where their skills were most needed.
He says he expects more requests to come through as the fires could burn for weeks as the ground is dry and dead trees fuel the blaze.
“Your heart goes out to them. They’ve been really smacked by this and there is little rainfall on the way.
“It is stressful for their families as crew are potentially in harm’s way.”
A New Zealand liasion person there who sends out a daily bulletin.
But as summer approaches he warned conditions in New Zealand may mean staff have to concentrate their efforts at home.
“New Zealand has started to dry out and it will get to a point where we need to think of conditions here; Marlborough dries out very quickly.
“Of course, we want to offer our country’s support where we can.”