Australia bushfires: New Zealand firefighters say 'arduous' battle ahead with more fires to come

New Zealand firefighters battling Australia's bushfires say the country will "be in drama for months" with a fresh bout of flames on the horizon. 

A handful of firefighters among the 22 deployed to Queanbeyan, east of Canberra, told Newshub they are all prepared for a "long, hard and arduous" battle against the devastating blazes.

"First week, it's the usual madness of getting equipment organised, securing some fires around key areas and making sure the fires aren't going to get going again," strike team leader Bruce Janes said.

"On the hot days, we fall back to a true strike team mode, booting off all over the landscape chasing fires... and looking after some very big, active fires. There are long, 14 to 16 hour days... it's pretty hot for Kiwis in all that clobber, but we're adjusting well."

Janes, from Rangiora, says the crew are maintaining their strength through a "disciplined, military-like" focus on hydration, nutrition and sleep.

"A good sense of humour helps," he added.

However, Janes is not so optimistic about the duration of Australia's worst bushfire season on record.

"They'll be in drama for months yet. Victoria is only just kicking off. The rain will be awesome for finishing some of the fires that are going quiet, but [there are] fires about to start with the very next lightning strike - that symptom of continental climate, dry lightning - those are your next fire [starters]. 

"Your long-term drought, your forest death across Australia, just means more drama to come really. [The weather] is a great respite locally... but it goes on."

Firefighters leave Auckland Airport on January 8 for their deployment to Australia.
Firefighters leave Auckland Airport on January 8 for their deployment to Australia. Photo credit: Getty

"We know it's going to be long and arduous, we're prepared for that... you've got to be flexible. Yesterday, we thought we were attending a moderate spot fire but it turned out to be intense, the plan changed quite rapidly," crew leader and Southland local Ken Keenan said.

"A lot of it's mental ability, how you react, how you place your team... you've got to be on your game and be preemptive, things can change very quickly. 

"I'll run through some of these scenarios with [firefighters back at the Invercargill Fire Brigade] to show how things can change so quickly. That's the start of the preparation for being on deployment really."

Nelson local and crew leader Erik Wardrop said that despite the severity of the situation, New Zealand crews are holding up "really well".

"We all know what we're getting in to, we're all trained and have a high level of fitness and mental [preparation] to come on these deployments... we're monitoring everyone to ensure their maintaining good mental and physical health.

"We're working with some really good people. The Australians are really good to work with. I'm enjoying the work."

Tauranga firefighter Emma Gib has been "blown away" by the local and community support.

Tauranga firefighter Emma Gibb.
Tauranga firefighter Emma Gibb. Photo credit: Getty

"Everyone involved with feeding us and supporting us, volunteers giving up their time, locals willing to help in any way they can - that's blown me away," she said.

"It's just amazing - there were people handing money into the local brigade the other day. It's quite moving watching them get together to fight this thing," Keenan added.

Janes noted roughly only 10 percent of deployed firefighters are paid staff.

"Volunteers are from all trades, of all sorts... they're awesome, an outstanding crew. 

"One thing that doesn't get talked about a lot is 50 percent of it is the firefighting  and looking after crews - the other 50 percent is looking after your crew emotionally... you're away from home, it's looking after your people from an emotional and supportive point of view. That's a big ask of the crew leaders, who are quite busy... that's a big part of this game.

"[We're] a highly dysfunctional family, but... you reinforce it all the way through... you become a highly efficient force by caring for one another."

As of January 8, Fire and Emergency has deployed 179 personnel to assist Australian firefighters since October 2019.

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