15-hour days: Kiwi firefighters reveal gruelling reality of US, Canada wildfires

Despite working in 43degC heat, Kiwi firefighters working halfway across the globe say it's all worth it. 

Nine New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) firefighters are part of Kiwi contingents sent to help battle massive fires in Canada and the United States. 

They work up to 15 hours a day in scorching temperatures, but the chance to help fire-ravaged communities makes the job worth it, the firefighters say.   

"Our day starts at 5:30am, and we would be working at the fire line up to 11 hours and not get back to camp until 8:30pm," said Sergeant Alex Walker, who is leading the three-member NZDF team in the United States. 

"It's difficult, challenging work and the tasks vary each day. Sometimes it is holding a fire line; at times it is patrolling the perimeter of the fire," he said. 

California's firefighting agency, Cal Fire, appointed the NZDF firefighters deployed earlier this month to the United States as taskforce leaders. Each of them are managing between 60 and 100 firefighters trying to suppress the Carr Fire, which has burned more than 207,000 acres and destroyed about 1000 homes so far.

Sergeant Walker says the gratitude shown by locals has been more than enough reward. He said when his team stops at the petrol station, people ask where they're from and are "amazed" they made the trip from New Zealand. 

"They shake our hands and could not thank us enough for coming halfway around the world to help," he said. 

The NZDF deployed six other firefighters to help combat the wildfires raging across British Columbia in Canada, which, according to Sergeant Michael Scott, who heads the Canada team, are bigger and more dangerous than fires in New Zealand. 

"Cedars are massive and when they burn they are like giant chimneys, which can be quite dangerous," said NZDF Senior Firefighter Corporal Tony Morris, who is helping battle wildfires at Revelstoke, a city in south-eastern British Columbia.

Although there is not much difference in the way firefighters in Canada and the United States operate, the New Zealand firefighters had to be briefed on how to deal with bears and other wild animals.

"There are bears, wolves and cougars in the areas where we are operating and we were told that if we encounter them we should make as much noise as possible and make ourselves look as big as we can and back away," Sergeant Scott said. 

Newshub.