NZ firefighters battle Oz blazes

By Imran Ali

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THREAT: Northland firefighters helping fight large fires in the Australia state of Victoria, this week.PHOTO/SUPPLIED
THREAT: Northland firefighters helping fight large fires in the Australia state of Victoria, this week.PHOTO/SUPPLIED

High winds have helped Kiwi firefighters, led by two Northlanders, contain large fires raging through forests in the Australia state of Victoria.

Forty New Zealand firefighters, including eight Northlanders, are based in the small town of Wye River on the Otway Coast, about 162km southwest of Melbourne, and are working until after 9pm each day.

They have helped contain the same fires that destroyed more than 120 homes during the festive season.

Kevin Ihaka and Michael Sullivan from Whangarei-based Forest Protection Services are leading two groups of Kiwi firefighters working together in the Otway Ranges.

Mr Sullivan left for Melbourne with 22 firefighters, including seven Northlanders, on January 2 while Mr Ihaka flew out yesterday with a further 22.

There were no Northlanders in Mr Ihaka's group.

Mr Ihaka said he was leading four groups of five firefighters in a steep area with large gum trees.

"It's still dangerous out here.

"The fires are mostly contained and but we continue to strengthen those lines and will have to keep mopping up the hotspots," he said.

"It's pretty dry at this time of the year so the fires are not going to go away quickly but high winds have cooled things a bit ... it will help us get some decent work done."

Mr Ihaka said temperatures soared to 40C prior to the high winds early this week.

It looked as if the Kiwi crew would stay for the entire three weeks as initially planned, he said.

The Kiwi firefighters travel about 50km each way from their camp to the fires and work between 12 and 15 hours a day.

The fires have so far destroyed about 125 homes, and more homes and infrastructure are under threat from drought and moderate winds that are fuelling the blaze around Lorne and further along the Great Ocean Rd.

- Northern Advocate

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