Firefighters battle 'ugly' Aussie blaze

By Imran Ali

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The Northland crew of firefighters get dirty on the ground while fighting fires in Tasmania.
The Northland crew of firefighters get dirty on the ground while fighting fires in Tasmania.

Whangarei firefighters are battling extremely thick tea tree stands in remote Tasmania after being assigned a 20-hectare fire threatening homes and wildlife.

Six firefighters from Whangarei were among a 43-member Kiwi crew that headed across the Tasman on January 29 to help put out nearly 80 fires that were burning throughout the Australian state, most started by lightning strikes and fuelled by drought conditions and strong winds.

More than three weeks on, and despite some heavy rain that caused flooding in some areas, more than 70 fires are still burning. Most are in the west, where there has been less rain. As of last Friday, the Tasmanian Fire service reportedly estimated an area of about 105,000 hectares - slightly bigger than greater Melbourne - had been blackened.

Canadian Garrett Ugray, who is part of the Whangarei crew, said they have been assigned a 20-hectare fire which was part of Mt Cullen, a mountain in south west Tasmania.

"It's definitely one of the more active fires, with extremely thick tea tree stands - nearly impossible to lay hose without cutting a trail with our chainsaw," Mr Ugray said. "The burn is patchy with no real defined perimeter. It's an ugly fire with a lot of hard work. Just how we like it."

Mr Ugray said morale was high. As the Whangarei crew left the fire on the first day, he said they could see just how active the fire behaviour was with flare-ups on either flank and lots of hotspots.

Others from Whangarei are Joey Cowen from Alaska, and locals Nathan Sullivan, Nicki Robinson, Martin White, and Taylor Snelgar. They are due back next week, but that could change if the situation escalates.

- Northern Advocate

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