Earthquake follows Oz bushfires

By Imran Ali

Northland firefighters helping battle devastating bushfires in Tasmania have had to deal with another natural disaster- an earthquake.

Locals in the Australian state could not figure out what jolted them at the breakfast table yesterday, but Kiwi firefighters and their support crew knew exactly what was going on.

"It was like a truck had hit the building we were having breakfast in," said Matiu Mataira, a firefighter from the Department of Conservation in Whangarei.

The 3.4-magnitude earthquake, about 10 to 12km from Wynyard, hit at 7.21am local time.

Six Northlanders are among a team of 12 Kiwi firefighters that left for Australia last Wednesday after a request for help from across the ditch.

Mr Mataira said they were based at Montumana, north-west of Tasmania in a rural area with few houses.

He is part of a Remote Area Team (Rat) working in a 3500ha bush since Friday, mainly setting lines and mopping up rather than fighting fires.

"The fire is pretty much contained and we're working to ensure they don't flare up again. There's a huge area to cover on a steep terrain," Mr Mataira said.

"The weather's been very kind. Temperatures dropped and there was a bit of rain and hail on Thursday [last week] which lowered the temperature to 23."

He said the scene was that of total devastation, with one house totally destroyed. Fire also came close to another property.

The Northland crew are on standby, he said, after a weather warning was issued for Hobart for Thursday.

With temperatures plummet-ing and the fires under control, Mr Mataira said they may return home earlier than the 18 days anticipated.

On the earthquake, team liaison officer John Barnes said locals thought a thunder storm had struck them but coming from Christchurch, he knew it was not.

"There was a loud bang and a roar. They [Tasmanians] are not used to it but someone from Christchurch like me certainly is," he said.

Other Northlanders are Glen Coulston, Paul Cornille, Clea Gardiner (Whangarei), James McLaughlin (Kauri Coast), and Clinton Lyall (Bay of Islands).

Whangarei-based Forest Protection Services, which has previously answered calls for help in South Australia and in theUS, is on stand-by.

Fires have destroyed more than 100 properties and continue to ravage the island state. Bushfires are also burning in the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and New South Wales, and South Australia is bracing for the worst bushfire conditions in years.

- Northland Age

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