Accidental Kiwi firefighter celebrates 'little victories' amid Australian mega-fire

A Kiwi forestry intern-turned-firefighter is working 24-hour days to protect his adopted New South Wales community.

On Saturday night, Fergus Simpson, 22, is preparing for yet another overnight shift on the northern front of the interstate mega-fire.

How Simpson ended up fighting fires is a total accident. He crossed the Tasman with the promise of a forestry internship with NSW Forestry and fire fighting was expected to be a small element of the three-month experience. 

"I went over, had the interview, got the job and so I thought 'yeah, a summer overseas why not?' Little did I know that I was signing up for the worst fire season in history," he told Newshub.

In the weeks since Christmas, the Canterbury University Student has been working around the clock to protect the area near the state border with Victoria.

"The fires have come to me basically. So it's been more every single day, full-on, all day just non-stop since then.

"You've got 30-40 metre high flames surrounding you and the speed at which it comes at you and the noise, the heat is just unbelievable."

Accidental Kiwi firefighter celebrates 'little victories' amid Australian mega-fire
Photo credit: Supplied.
Accidental Kiwi firefighter celebrates 'little victories' amid Australian mega-fire
Photo credit: Supplied.
Accidental Kiwi firefighter celebrates 'little victories' amid Australian mega-fire
Photo credit: Supplied.

Some days his shift was 24-hours long.

"All in the heat with these huge flames, it's pretty exhausting and you just get to the end of it and when you finally get a day off you sleep for the whole thing."

He says while the ferocity of the fire can be overwhelming, his team holds on to the small victories. 

Simpson says his scariest moment came while they were protecting a local farmhouse from the fire front.

"This was on a day when overnight the fire was about 100km, there was no stopping it. It was the worst fire conditions [his colleagues] said they had ever seen."

Simpson and his crew used everything they could find to dampen down the house, the tanker, sprinklers and garden hoses and then they waited. 

They were just 15 minutes ahead of the fire front, and embers were already raining down on them. 

"We had to pull out and it was really depressing because we thought bugger we lost [the house]. But we came back the next day and the house was still standing. So there are some little victories amongst it."

Simpson's internship ends in mid-February when he will return home to Christchurch. But for his adopted community, there is no escape.

"At the end of the day this is a job for me and I'm going to go back to uni and back to my normal life. But for the people here they are not going to have their normal lives for a long time to come."

While Simpson and his colleagues have been working hard to protect their region, several of them have lost their homes in the process. 

"If I've learnt anything, it's just always look out and think about how you can help people the most."

A GoFundMe page has so far raised more than $22,000.

Simpson says he looks forward to get away from the fires and back to routine, which he hopes will include some volunteer firefighting back in New Zealand.

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