Kiwi firefighter returned from Australia says strange bushfire behaviour befuddled everyone

A Kiwi firefighter deployed across the ditch to help Australia battle its worst wildfires in decades has praised local firefighters and their communities for their efforts in the crisis. 

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Bay of Plenty firefighter Emma Gibb, who took part in the effort spoke to TVNZ 1’s Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

The fires have devastated much of the country and has killed at least 27 people.

Tauranga firefighter Emma Gibb, who returned home Monday, told TVNZ1's Breakfast that she was surprised at what she encountered in Australia. 

“There were some really large bushfires that were behaving in ways that some seasoned firefighters haven’t even seen fire behave before," she explained. 

“For instance, we were on one fire at the beginning of the week where it was doing its thing, and we were monitoring a containment line, and the fire was actually spotting 700 [metres] to a kilometre ahead of the fire and just spreading rapidly."

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Steve Glassey led a team of 10 volunteers to Australia to help the affected animals. Source: Breakfast

Ms Gibb said “spotting”, in which new fires are sparked in front of the main fire, occurs through “ember transfer”. The wind picks up hot embers and spreads it to burnt vegetation, starting up new fires which later link up with the main fire.

She said, however, that there was never a moment where she felt she was in danger or feared for her life.

“There is always that element of danger, for sure, but our main job is to identify the danger or the hazards and put everything in place that we possibly can to make it as safe as we possibly can to be able to still go in and do the job that needs to be done.

“We had a really good team and the Australians that we were working with were really switched on and safety was paramount throughout the whole time that we were there.”

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The Australian firefighters may be exhausted but they are doing everything they can to protect their communities, she said.

“They’re been putting everything they’ve got out there on the line and dedicating every single day and moment that they can, so they are really exhausted, but still wanting to do everything they possibly can for their communities and be there to help.

“With us going over there, the Australian management are trying to do their best to give those guys a break and send them home and sort of enforce rest, I guess, while we go out and do the jobs that they would generally doing if we weren’t there.”

She said, however, that the exhaustion “goes deeper than the firefighters”, to the community.

“Everyone is just amazing over there. Everyone wants to do their part and help where they can and whatnot. So you’ve got people that turn up to the fire station day in and day out just to make daily things run and work, and whether it’s feeding us or making sure that there’s the right gear there available. It’s pretty incredible.

“I would say the firefighters and their communities are running on limited sleep and borderline exhaustion.”