It’s impossible to miss the devastating fires of unprecedented scale and intensity being faced by our neighbours across the Tasman in Australia. Australians have seen lives lost, over 1,200 homes and likely hundreds of businesses destroyed. The destruction of over 12 million hectares has seen the estimated loss of half a billion animals and plants with some likely extinctions of species.
New Zealand’s skies are being tinged brown with the smoke, making this situation a reality for Kiwis 3,000 km away. One of our own staff evacuated from Kangaroo Island over the holidays. These fires are the worst our sector has seen. And this is only the beginning of summer.
We heard from SCION at our conference about conditions that lead to increased vegetation fire risks and we’re seeing this first-hand; prolonged drought, build-up of flammable material, extreme heat and strong winds have contributed towards a longer and more dangerous fire season.
In my 40+ years of service as a firefighter I have never seen fires of this magnitude anywhere in the world and I commend all those firefighters in Australia, knowing how utterly tiring and difficult these efforts must be for them. Not since 9/11 has our sector been in the global spotlight as much as it is today. However all firefighters are getting due attention for the absolutely crucial and positive work they do, with the specialisms in rural wildfire-fighting obviously being at the forefront.
I want to acknowledge everyone of our New Zealand deployments from across Fire and Emergency, contractor and defence who has given up time with their families, who put their own lives on hold and put themselves into the face of danger to assist our neighbours.
I also want to acknowledge that as Kiwis we desperately want to help in any way we can. In the face of such devastation we also see the face of great humanity.
How you can help
If you want to help those affected we encourage you to send donations to established fundraising schemes which can directly invest where it is needed – a good list can be found here. There are schemes to support both the human and wildlife victims as well as brigades involved.
The UFBA is also meeting with the NZ Firefighters Welfare Society to discuss any practical ways we might be able to help or work together.
Our thoughts go out to all those affected.
Bill Butzbach, UFBA CEO
Image credits: N Cottrell. Fires, smoke and haze seen on flight from Sydney, Australia.
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