20 January 2017
The New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) five-member firefighting crew worked overnight Thursday to extinguish hotspots to prevent the massive bush fire south of Whitianga from spreading further.
“We got straight to work as soon as we arrived about 10 o’clock last night and finished about 6.30 this morning,” Corporal Alex Walker, who is leading the NZDF’s firefighting crew, said.
The firefighters – four from the New Zealand Army and one from the Royal New Zealand Air Force – have extensive training and experience in fighting bush fires.
After patrolling the fire perimeter, Corporal Walker said the team worked on hotspots, using shovels and axes to dig out embers.
“Hotspots can potentially flare up again, so we tried to extinguish them to help contain the fire,” he said. “The ground was hot and there was smoke everywhere. We were walking through a light fog of smoke, using torches to light our way.”
The firefighters had to haul all their equipment over two kilometres of steep terrain, he said.
“We were conscious of our safety, so we stayed mainly on the tracks and kept away from areas where there is still live vegetation.
“Everyone was tired after working overnight but morale remains high and the lads are keen to get out there again today to help out.”
Major General Tim Gall, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said the firefighters would be helping the National Rural Fire Authority over the next five days.
“Our firefighters have the experience and the skills to do this job,” he said. “We are aware that this work involves immense physical labour and some risks, but we in the Defence Force are always ready to help the local community.”