The New Zealand Defence Force is deploying a second rotation of firefighters to Tasmania this weekend as authorities there gear up for another month battling bushfires.
CAPTION: Kiwi firefighters in Tasmania. Photo courtesy National Rural Fire Authority
Five highly experienced New Zealand Defence Force firefighters will joint a 43-strong Kiwi contingent organised by New Zealand’s National Rural Fire Authority.
The current team of NZDF firefighters – four from the New Zealand Army and one from the Royal New Zealand Air Force – have been helping Tasmania’s fire crews since 29 January and will be relieved by the second team on 14 February.
Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy, Acting Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said the NZDF was continuing assistance to the Tasmania Fire Service as there were still a significant number of fires that could potentially threaten communities in the north and north-west of the state.
“The rotation of our firefighting crew is to ensure our people get adequate rest,” Air Commodore McEvoy said.
“They work in extremely tough conditions and up to 12 hours each day.
“But they are determined to help and the Australians have appreciated that.”
Warrant Officer Class 1 Brent Ruruku, who is leading the NZDF contingent currently battling the wildfires at Arthur River in north-west Tasmania, said working with the Australians had been a great opportunity to enhance their skills.
“It has been great working with them as a joint force,” he said.
“For us, this deployment has also confirmed that our skill-sets are aligned with international standards.”
To get to their work area, the NZDF firefighters have to drive over 50kms of dirt road and carry all their equipment, food packs and water supplies over a further 2kms of steep terrain.
WO1 Ruruku said the temperature reached up to 30 degrees but it felt hotter because of the special gear we use – long sleeves, helmets, gloves and boots – and the physical exertion that the work entails.
“Each of us drinks up to 5 litres of water each day to keep ourselves hydrated.
“Apart from the intense fires, we have encountered snakes and spiders.
“We are always conscious of our safety and we have lookouts so we can leave quickly if needed.”
The wildfires, ignited by lightning strikes in mid-January, have ravaged more than 115,000 hectares including around 20,000 hectares of a World Heritage-listed area in north-west Tasmania.