Dunstan Volunteer Rural Fire Force firefighter Ewan Richmond says a raging bushfire cannot be extinguished — it can only be managed.
Richmond and fellow Dunstan firefighter Tony Smith were part of a New Zealand contingent of 208 firefighters who travelled to Australia in the summer of 2019-20 to help fight the country’s ‘‘black summer’’ of bushfires.
Putting their lives on the line for their Anzac brethren was something they never thought twice about, they said.
Their wives, however, requested they stop sending photos of the conflagrations home.
For Richmond, the ‘‘no photo’’ edict came on day three of his deployment — for Smith it was day one.
The two were awarded National Emergency Medals for their help in a ceremony at the Australian High Commission in Christchurch on November 7 this year.
Smith said everyone on such a deployment does it for different reasons.
‘‘Some people do it for the excitement and travel,’’ he said.
‘‘I look at it that if I go over and do my stint, one of the Australians can go home and rest up.’’
Richmond said for him it was a sense of duty — ‘‘If people need help, you go and help them’’.
They said it was awkward when Australians came up and thanked them for what they were doing and wanted to shout them drinks and meals. One older woman was in tears.
‘‘It was very humbling,’’ Richmond said.
With fires that extensive, water was barely used, he said.
‘‘We use fire to fight fire,’’ he said.
That involved backburns to starve the fire of fuel and, in one night alone, they had to backburn 400,000ha, Richmond said.
That figure pales beside his next — ‘‘The day we left to come home, the fires had burned 1.5 million hectares.’’
Richmond works for PGG Wrightson Alexandra and said they were fantastic about his commitment.
‘‘There were no issues at all — ‘just go, be safe and make sure you send us some photos’,’’ he quoted them as saying.
Smith is the owner of Junction Autos, but said the ‘‘really good guys at work’’ allowed him peace of mind while away.The Dunstan force is currently looking for four recruits to join the team.
‘‘They need to have a good work ethic, a sense of adventure, be community-minded, have a reasonable standard of fitness and like flying in helicopters,’’ Richmond said.