Kiwi firefighter who battled Australian bushfires says experience will help in fighting New Zealand blazes

A Kiwi firefighter deployed to battle the bushfires that ravaged Australia says he confronted devastating scenes, but it was an experience that will help him tackle blazes back home.

Chris Southwick has been deployed to Australia twice this bushfire season as part of a revolving New Zealand team to assist Australian firefighters, including in New South Wales, which saw millions of hectares destroyed by the infernos. 

Thousands of homes have been destroyed and 29 people killed nationwide, including several firefighters. 

While the blazes were recently downgraded after a set of large downpours, rising temperatures and windy conditions are concerning authorities.

Southwick, who recently fought the Nelson Pigeon Valley fire, told The AM Show that what he saw was devastating and on a scale not seen in New Zealand. 

"It is very enduring over there. It is very humbling going over and seeing all the devastation and helping people out," he said.

"It is the scale, it is the heat, it is the impact it has got on all the people around us.

"We see all the locals and just seeing what they are going through and the environment. We saw the animals as well. You can see some of the behaviour of some of the animals was changing."

Southwick told The AM Show that work would begin at about 7am and finish at 6pm. But with travel included, the Kiwi firefighters were having to tackle up to 14 hour working days in intense conditions.

What the firefighters do each day depends on the conditions.

"It was always evolving. It always depended on what happened on the day, whether it was high temperatures and high winds, we would just head away in the morning, get our taskings, and head into the areas and start doing the work we had to do every day.

"On the first deployment, we did night shifts, so we were letting some of the [Australian] volunteers go home and get some sleep. On the deployment we just did, we were there just to back up."

The experience of working in Australia would help inform how the firefighters tackled blazes back home, Southwick said. 

"We are looking at fire behaviour over there that is just so intensified and larger than what we get in New Zealand that we get the benefits of just learning from their fire behaviours and we can bring that home to help battle our own fires."

He said understanding how fires change behaviour on different landscapes was particularly beneficial. 

Despite the horrendous conditions and long days, Southwick said he was ready to go back and help. He said all the firefighters there are committed and work together. 

"We all just meld together and just start working together. Different countries, different brigades, but we are all just one big family."

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