Northland fire fighters battle Aussie blaze

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Victorian firefighters were feeling the strain of almost two months of difficult work. Photo / Thinkstock
Victorian firefighters were feeling the strain of almost two months of difficult work. Photo / Thinkstock

A team of rural Northland fire fighters have been working in extreme heat and back-burning a fire front in rough Australian terrain.

It's not glamorous work fighting the fires. It's dirty, physically exhausting and demands long hours. But the Northland crew are relishing the experience.

Kevin Ihaka, from Whangarei- based business Forest Protection Services, and five others crossed the ditch 13 days ago and have completed a staggering 90 hours in seven days on the fire before taking the weekend off.

In an email to the Northern Advocate Mr Ihaka said the team were looking forward to two days off to "do some washing, have a beer and a sleep".

The men are part of a team that was the country's second-largest deployment of rural fire fighters overseas.

Victorian firefighters were feeling the strain of almost two months of difficult work, with at least two firefighters dying when a tree fell on their vehicle. They called on their New Zealand counterparts to help out.

The Northland crew had been staying in a motel in a village called Bright and were driving two and a half hours to get to the fire - the last 54km on dirt tracks - near Gippsland in the state's east.

They were working on the "Razor" fire that was started by a lightening strike the day the team arrived. Now 1800 hectares has been contained within backburn lines.

Mr Ihaka said the fire was about 20km around and all the lines had to have dangerous trees removed.

Bulldozers and crews with 'rakehoes' then went through and prepared the line for burning.

He said it had pretty much been a Kiwi effort and they were very proud of the outcome.

The crews have been assigned vehicles and the Northland team have been given a Landrover they have dubbed "Optimus Crumpet".

"Old Optimus has one major flaw, the 'aircon' is a couple of open flaps under the windscreen, great for cooling if you weren't following 20 other vehicles down dusty dirt roads, so needless to say it is a bit dusty inside," Mr Ihaka said.

"We have caught up with friends and workmates from previous deployments so it has been easy to slip back in to the system here."

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