Local firefighters head to Tasmania

By Imran Ali

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KIWI CREW: Kevin Ihaka of Forest Protection Services briefed the Whangarei crew at Whangarei Airport before they flew off to Tasmania yesterday. PHOTOS/MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM
KIWI CREW: Kevin Ihaka of Forest Protection Services briefed the Whangarei crew at Whangarei Airport before they flew off to Tasmania yesterday. PHOTOS/MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM

Six Whangarei firefighters are among a 43-member Kiwi crew that headed to Tasmania to combat blazes that threatened lives and properties.

The Whangarei crew left via Auckland and Melbourne for a three-week deployment yesterday. They were expected to be briefed this morning and receive their equipment before heading out to the fire fronts tomorrow.

Nearly 80 fires are burning throughout Tasmania, most started by lightning strikes and fuelled by drought conditions and strong winds.

National Rural Fire Officer Kevin O'Connor said crews from Whangarei, Auckland, Rotorua, Nelson and Invercargill would initially concentrate on containing fires in World Heritage sites in the west and southwest of the island where the fire risk was extreme.

The group comprises eight teams of five members, plus three liaison staff.

A Defence Force team and Department of Conservation team will also join the deployment - the 11th to Australia since 2001.

The Whangarei crew, who work for Forest Protection Services, are Canadian Garrett Urgay, Joey Cowen from Alaska, and locals Nathan Sullivan, Nicki Robinson who returned this week from a deployment to Melbourne, Martin White, and Taylor Snelgar.

For Mr Urgay, his first trip to New Zealand turned out to be his maiden voyage to Australia as well.

He arrived in Whangarei in mid-November last year and would return home in March.

"I am ecstatic. Tasmania will be a challenge for sure but those are the challenges I love. I'll be taking lots of pics ... soaking up everything while I am there," he said before departure from Whangarei Airport yesterday.

Owner of Forest Protection Services and experienced firefighter Kevin Ihaka said the Kiwi crew would do seven-day shifts before getting two days off, and would work in remote and steep areas.

"We're always well-represented in deployments such as these because we have large numbers of people available with a lot of skills who can get started pretty quickly," he said.

Mr Ihaka was among eight Whangarei firefighters who returned from Melbourne early this week after a two-week deployment.

- Northern Advocate

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