Fire risk keeps Wairarapa crews at home

By Nathan Crombie

Growing fire risk in Wairarapa has meant local firefighters can't be spared to help battle wildfires in Australia, says rural fire boss Phill Wishnowsky.

Two teams of New Zealand rural firefighters were to fly to Tasmania this morning to help battle bush fires.

Kiwi crews are also expected to join domestic forces in New South Wales, which is facing some of the worst fire conditions in its history.

Mr Wishnowsky, Wairarapa principal rural fire officer, said yesterday the fire risk in Wairarapa was worsening daily.

The region has been in a restricted fire season since last month, and the dangers at home had to take precedence over pleas from Australia.

"We are getting very dry and with the high winds and temperatures and low humidity, any fire at the moment would pose a significant danger for us," Mr Wishnowsky said.

"I don't expect any call for help would be passed on to us. We can't spare the resources."

About 200 rural firefighters in Wairarapa included rural fire party volunteers, forestry contractors and district council crews, while New Zealand Fire Service crews are first response units for rural blazes.

He said Wairarapa firefighters had in the past travelled to Australia on request, including a Juken NZ emergency response team of five members who battled blazes across the Tasman within the past decade.

Mr Wishnowsky had been sent to battle wildfires in Victoria in 2007 and about 10 years ago also joined a multinational team that fought forest fires in the US state of Oregon.

He said rural Kiwi firefighters were well-respected in Australia and America and the prowess of New Zealand fire crews were internationally recognised.

"Australians and Americans have a huge amount of respect for Kiwi firefighters and for our skills and abilities. It's not surprising they call for our help," Mr Wishnowsky said.

Exhausted Australia fire crews will be prioritising which fires pose the greatest danger to life and property and will be fighting blazes that constitute the greatest risk.

"But as fast as they contain fires, more are breaking out. There will be some very tired boys and girls over there right now. Very tired," he said.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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