A WINCHESTER firefighter will fly to Australia to provide humanitarian aid after wildfires have ravaged the country.
Steve Watters, from Winchester Station, will join 40 other firefighters deploying to Canberra where a state of emergency has recently been declared.
The mission was organised by firefighter-run charity Tunnel2Towers to re-establish communities and work alongside wildlife organisations.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has declared a state of emergency as large bushfires continue to rage in Canberra. More than 18,500 hectares is burning in the territory’s south and residents have been warned of possible evacuations.
In the past four months Australian bushfires have killed 33 people and destroyed thousands of homes. More than 11 million hectares of land have been scorched and a billion animals are estimated to have died.
The team of current and retired firefighters will be camping in Adelong and working closely with Fire and Rescue New South Wales (NSW).
Whilst the team won’t be doing any actual firefighting, they will be assisting with re-establishing boarders and restoring farms and homes. Steve will help rebuild the farming communities by constructing fences, buildings and animal shelters.
They will also be working with BlazeAid, RSPCA Australia and WIRES (Australia’s largest wildlife rehabilitation charity) to rescue, recover and provide welfare to injured koalas and kangaroos.
The group intend to spend time with and embed themselves into the Aboriginal and indigenous communities to share learning, knowledge and practices about the land and bushfires. This will encompass a vital part of the deployment for coordinating relief efforts and applying the learning internationally.
The 51-year-old said, “I’m doing this because it’ll be an amazing development opportunity that is close to home for me. I have family living in Australia and I’ve seen the devastation and how hard communities have been hit.
“This is a chance for me to give something back and help people in need. I’m sure this will be an experience that will stay with me forever.
“Every little bit helps, and I’ve always believed that if you can help, you should. The more people that join and come together as a team, the sooner these communities can get back to their normal lives.”
Steve has been a part of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service for nearly 25-years, serving as a firefighter at Eastleigh, Andover and now Winchester.
He has honed his skills with Hampshire’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, assisting with the collaboration and planning of deployment to the earthquakes in Haiti and Christchurch, New Zealand, and Japan after the tsunami hit in 2011.
Group Manager Jerry Leonard, who had a fundamental role in developing the Hampshire USAR team, said “HFRS is pleased to be supporting the ongoing situation in Australia.
“Steve has diverse skills to offer, not only his specialised knowledge from being with the service and USAR, but also his practical ability.
“Our firefighters can bring a wealth of experience and capabilities in many areas to cope with the worst type of incidents, and Steve has the full support of the Service behind him.”
The Tunnel2Towers group plan to fly to Canberra later this week. They will be the first group, with a further 20 additional members joining every two weeks.
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