Firefighters rushed into action

By Imran Ali

A lightening strike that caused a new fire in Victoria prompted a Northland firefighting crew to jump straight into action soon after touching down in Australia.

The six - Kevin Ihaka, Ryan Banks, Nathan Sullivan and three Alaskan firefighters currently in Whangarei on work experience, Kevin Kraatz, Peter MacManus and Dalton Robinson - were part of a 44-strong New Zealand contingent on a 16-day deployment.

They returned to New Zealand on Monday and Mr Ihaka said their work was difficult and at times, dangerous.

The Northland crews were based at Bright, a small tourist town 311km north east of Melbourne, and worked at nearby Harrietville - where two firefighters from the Department of Sustainability and Environment were killed while battling a bushfire after a tree fell and struck their vehicle last month.

Indirect firefighting techniques have had to be used to fight most of the fires in Harrietville as areas were so remote to get directly in on the fire's edge.

Mr Ihaka said burnt or charred trees posed a real danger of falling.

"It rained towards the end and contained the fires which was good but a lot of work needed to be done, particularly around dangerous trees falling over on the roads," he said.

"The area was burnt in 2003 and in 2006 so a lot of trees that were then felled and now falling and causing problems."

Mr Ihaka said most of their work revolved around clearing trees and making fire breaks before backburning.

Although temperatures hovered around the 30s, he said protective clothing and long walks took its toll at times.

Mr Ihaka said the Northland crew enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Australian firefighters because both worked together on almost all deployments.

The largest contingent of 109 firefighters from New Zealand was deployed to Victoria in 2009.

- Northern Advocate

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