Anita's mother, Barbara Bryan, described what happened in an email to the Hutt News.
Her daughter left Stokes Valley in 1999 to complete her paramedics degree at the University of California. She married and lives in Anaheim. She is a paramedic / fire fighter for the City of Corona (Los Angeles).
On November 16 (in the US, 9.23am on Saturday the 15th) the engine she was on fighting the wildfires was engulfed in flames when hurricane-force winds caused the blaze to change direction.
The engineer was able to climb up on the rig and use the master stream (a huge nozzle capable of releasing 1200 gallons per minute) to spray water around to try to buy them some time. With just 500 gallons in the tank it rapidly ran out, leaving them with no protection.
The heat was so intense that the hoses ignited and the tyres on the engine started to burn and melt. The captain radioed their position and all available helicopters with monsoon buckets and water-carrying aircraft were dispatched to the area.
A specialised bush fire engine was also sent to help.
The one protection hose they had been using was burnt rubber but Anita hadn't realised it had melted and picked it up to move it. The rubber burnt through her gloves, leaving her with second-degree burns to her hands and no water to take away the heat. It was so hot that she couldn't remove her glove to stop the burning and had to continue to work beyond the pain.
Even though she was wearing her specialised protective gear, her legs felt like they were on fire as the ground ignited around them. With no water left in the engine, they had to beat back the flames with shovels until help arrived. She said that although it was terrifying, no-one panicked they all stayed focused and in survival mode.
Barbara, husband Tony and Anita's brother Paul in New Zealand were frantic when the news came through that Anita had been hurt.
But Barbara says Anita's husband Jack reassured them that all four crew had got out and were being treated in hospital. Anita's worst injury was burning to her throat, airway and lungs. She is healing well, but Barbara says her daughter has confided that the emotional scar will take a little longer.
"They all stayed totally positive throughout the ordeal but reality hit the following day when they realised just how lucky they were to survive," she says.
Barbara is particularly proud that despite her own injuries, Anita wanted her crewmates one of whom had eye injuries checked out first.
"In her line of work Anita continually deals with injury and death and always says to her family that we can never be guaranteed of tomorrow," Barbara says. "Although she is miles away she always remains in close contact with home."
Anita's husband told the family in New Zealand that despite the harrowing experience, she is anxious to get back to work as soon as she gets a medical clearance doing the job she loves, which is helping people.
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