North team to tackle Oz fires

By Kristin Edge

A team of rural firefighters from Northland has crossed the ditch to help battle fires in remote areas of Australian bush.

The men are part of a 44-strong team that is the country's second-largest deployment of rural firefighters. They touched down on scorched turf in the state of Victoria yesterday.

Victorian firefighters are feeling the strain of almost two months of difficult work and this week lost two colleagues who died when a tree fell on their vehicle.

Two of the Northland contingent, Kevin Ihaka and Ryan Banks, are familiar with what they will face, having helped their Australian counterparts during the devastating fires of Black Saturday in 2009 when 173 people died and 414 were injured.

Others in the crew are Whangarei's Nathan Sullivan and three Alaskan firefighters who recently arrived in Whangarei - Kevin Kraatz, Peter MacManus and Dalton Robinson.

During their 16-day deployment, the team will work to contain large bushfires in the Gippsland area.

Mr Ihaka, who is also Whangarei's Principal Rural Fire Officer, said he would be a sector boss in charge of four crews made up of firefighters, while Mr Banks would be a crew leader.

"All we know is we will be working in remote areas that are still burning, and concentrating on felling trees and back-burning," Mr Ihaka said.

During national training exercises forestry and Department of Conservation firefighters had worked together, he said, which would help in Australia.

National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield said the largest contingent of 109 firefighters was deployed to Victoria in 2009.

"The team has been chosen for their fitness, chainsaw and controlled-burning skills, along with their ability to live out in the open," Mr Dudfield said.

- Northern Advocate

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