AN AWARD-WINNING Hampshire firefighter told how he helped save animals caught up in devastating wildfires in America.

Animal rescue expert Jim Green has returned to the UK after spending 12 months passing on his skills to vets and firefighters in California.

During his visit the Golden State experienced one of its hottest summers on record.

The 44-year-old father of two was called to various incidents and also dealt with animal-related issues after residents had been evacuated from threatened areas.

A friend’s house where Jim had stayed several times during his stay was burned to the ground along with 130 others in the same street.

At one point he was deployed to the city of Santa Rosa, where about 2,000 properties were lost in a single night.

He said: “Huge animal evacuation shelters were set up with more than 600 horses in one alone. Sadly the fires came through so quickly that many owners did not have time to move their animals as they fled for their lives.

“Vets, volunteer rescue groups and first responders worked for days to provide assistance to human and animal victims of the fires.”

Jim heads an animal rescue squad deployed by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and has dealt with countless incidents in the New Forest.

Last year he was awarded the Richard Martin Gold Award, one of the RSPCA’s top honours.

During his year in the US he worked with the University of California’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the UC Davis Fire Department.

He said: “A large part of my job was teaching the basics of animal handling and psychology and nurturing an understanding of animal issues.

“California pet ownership is similar to the UK so there’s a 50 per cent chance that first responders will encounter animals at any incident they attend.

“Firefighters need to understand the risks that distressed animals can pose to their safety and that of the public.

“They also have to factor in the way people behave when animals are in distress – animal rescue has a huge bearing on the safety of humans.”