As wildfires blazed across North America a group of 10 Rotorua firefighters flew in to help their international counterparts battle the deadly flames.

Lake Okareka Rural Fire Force chief fire officer Phil Muldoon and Timberlands firefighter Jeremy Cox were deployed to the United States while Okareka firefighter David Herries and Rotorua assistant area commander Hamish Smith were sent to Canada.

The group returned to New Zealand over the weekend after more than five weeks overseas.

Muldoon said from the moment they got there they had to hit the ground running.


"We were delegated tasks and there were some very long days."

Muldoon said it was a bit unnerving at times to see the actual size of the fire coming through.

"It was intense to see things like a bulldozer which had been flung across the ground by a fire tornado."

Cox said they certainly missed the home comforts as they stayed in tents with other firefighters.

"There was definitely a lot of different terminologies for us to get used to," Muldoon said.

Cox said when they got up in the mornings to drive to the scene of the fire the roadside would be lined with people holding signs of support.

He worked on the Mendocino Fire which became the largest fire in Californian history.

"At its peak, there were 3000 firefighters on the ground," he said.

David Herries (from left) and Hamish Smith were sent to Canada while Phil Muldoon and Jeremy Cox were deployed to America. Photo / Ben Fraser
David Herries (from left) and Hamish Smith were sent to Canada while Phil Muldoon and Jeremy Cox were deployed to America. Photo / Ben Fraser

Herries said it had been an incredibly humbling experience to see the people whose homes or businesses had been destroyed.

"Schools were just incredible, they'd drop off small kits and then wherever you went, even just at the supermarket, there was so much support."

They went so they could bring those experiences back to New Zealand and be able to work with a better confidence and knowledge here, Herries said.

He said it was the first time he's had to unfreeze pipes before fighting a fire.

"Some mornings it was -4c as we were climbing out of our tents."

Smith said one of the key differences was the resourcing of fire crew.

"There was a lot more resourcing, whatever you needed you just got it."

Where he was posted, at Fraser Lake, the fire burnt through 93,000 hectares, which is about half the size of the Kaingaroa Forest Estate.

"It all just became ash and the sky was pitch black at 3pm in the afternoon, just black and orange for days and days on end.

"We left knowing the fire was held but we were told within four weeks there'll be snow on the ground."

More than 30 fire personnel from across New Zealand responded to the call for help to combat the fires as they raged across the west and northwest of the United States and across Canada.

At least eight people had been killed by the blazes and more than 1000 homes and businesses were destroyed.

One of the largest blazes, named the Carr Fire, ripped through 44,570 hectares in a week.