Kiwi crews battling 'radical' conditions in Australia

By Damian George

Kiwi firefighters have gone to help fight the bush fires in Victoria, Australia. Photo / iStock
Kiwi firefighters have gone to help fight the bush fires in Victoria, Australia. Photo / iStock

Otago firefighters are continuing to battle a major bushfire in ''radical'' conditions in the Australian state of Victoria.

Four local firefighters have joined the 150-strong crew battling a 250,000ha blaze in the Otway Ranges region, where heavy eucalypt forests adjoin the coastline.

The local crew arrived at their base in Birregurra, near the small western Victorian city of Colac, a week ago, and would remain there for another two weeks.

Otago Rural Fire Authority deputy principal rural fire officer Graeme Still said the fire itself was not extreme but conditions on the coast were making life very difficult for firefighters.

Dunedin firefighter Chris McLeod gives water to a koala in Victoria. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Dunedin firefighter Chris McLeod gives water to a koala in Victoria. Photo / Otago Daily Times

"It's really steep. We're talking radical,'' he said.

"In one case, I had to climb back out on my knees, almost straight up. It's pretty rugged country.''

The blaze was similar to a decent forest fire in New Zealand but the fragile eucalyptus trees made the situation far more dangerous, Mr Still said.

"They shed branches pretty easily. They can just crash down, so there's a lot of situational awareness [needed].

"That's the main hazard, as well as slipping and falling over.''

Crews were working their way around the edge of the fire perimeter, and up to 30m inside of it, in an effort to stop the blaze entering suburban areas, Mr Still said.

It had already destroyed 116 homes in two small coastal communities, Wye River and Separation Creek.

"It's relatively small for Australian fires but it's quite dangerous, because it's really close to a lot of high-value communities.''

The local crew, which included a tree feller who was cutting down smoking or "chimney'' trees, had just completed two days off and would be back on deck tomorrow, Mr Still said.

They were due to return home on January 23.

Further help on the way

More Kiwi firefighters will travel to Australia today to help fight the bush fires.

A total of 22 firefighters from stations in Auckland, Rotorua-Whakatane, the West Coast and Invercargill will head across the Tasman this afternoon.

They are the second contingent from New Zealand assigned to help.

National Rural Fire Officer Kevin O'Connor said the crews on the ground had already made a big impact - helping to contain fires, which continue to burn on a 40km front around Victoria's southwest coast.

Mr O'Connor said fire danger remained "very high" and both deployments were scheduled to last up to three weeks. There was a possibility that could be extended, depending on conditions.

The fires were sparked last month after lightning strikes in the area.

- Additional reporting: NZ Herald

- Otago Daily Times

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 30 May 2017 08:23:56 Processing Time: 510ms