Helping to fight bushfires ‘most challenging’ mission

The sound of trees falling, the intensity of the flames and the kindness of the community are among four Southland firefighters’ memories of the devastating Australian bushfires.

Volunteers Ken Keenan, Graeme Appleby, Brodie Butcher and Nigel Milne were among 21 firefighters deployed to Australia by Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

They returned to Southland on Monday after 14 days of ‘‘the hardest job’’ they had ever had.

Volunteers (from left) Brodie Butcher, Nigel Milne, Graeme Appleby and Ken Keenan were among 21 firefighters deployed by Fire and Emergency New Zealand to help with Australia’s  bushfires. Photo: Luisa Girao
Volunteers (from left) Brodie Butcher, Nigel Milne, Graeme Appleby and Ken Keenan were among 21 firefighters deployed by Fire and Emergency New Zealand to help with Australia’s bushfires. Photo: Luisa Girao
Hedgehope rural fire controller Mr Keenan said it was hard to explain what they saw.

‘‘It was the real thing. For sure it was the most challenging deployment we’ve ever been on.’’

Mr Appleby said they learnt a lot because the fire behaviour was different from any they had dealt with before.

‘‘Things can go wrong very quickly in a situation like this. It had so much to do — is unbelievable.’’

Mr Butcher said techniques they learnt could be helpful in Southland.

‘‘The dry firefighters’ techniques are quite impressive. It is amazing what you can stop, slow down and contain. You don’t actually need water to put the fire out.’’

Mr Milne said during their 14 days there, they were completely focused on the mission.

However, he knew it was important to contact people back home and try to reach his family at every opportunity.

‘‘They had so many questions ... I understand because they were a bit nervous and it was good to talk to them.’’

The New Zealanders’ fire truck, flying a flag bearing the silver fern. Photo: Supplied
The New Zealanders’ fire truck, flying a flag bearing the silver fern. Photo: Supplied
Mr Keenan believed the fires would continue to burn for the next few months.

‘‘It was hard but it was worth it. It is about helping neighbours out.’’

He was thankful to be able to return to New Zealand safe with his crew.

‘‘It was good to see some green grass. It is great to be back home.’’

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