Experienced firefighters from Whangārei are on their way to help tired crews battling ferocious blazes across a large swathe of farmland and bush in New South Wales that have so far claimed four lives.
A crew of five left for Sydney last night and a further 10 with crews from Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) are expected to fly out this morning bound for Coffs Harbour.
The 15 firefighters from Whangārei are working for Forest Protection Services (FPS) and includes two Canadians Brittany Borja and Natalie Sarchuk.
Borja fought fires in Australia in 2017 while Sarchuk was deployed on a similar assignment to Montana the same year.
Fire bans remain in place for a number of areas along Australia's east coast as bushfires continue to rage across NSW and Queensland.
Four people have died so far and more than 250 homes have been destroyed, almost 90 homes have been damaged, and around 480 outbuildings and 18 facilities have also been razed.
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Queenslanders have been told to flee their homes as ferocious blazes that are feeding off drought-stricken farmland and bush close in on a number of towns across the northern state.
FPS employee Mike Sullivan will accompany the 10 firefighters to Sydney today and take care of their induction before returning home.
He said the Whangārei crews were very experienced firefighters, having been to a number of fires around New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Team leader Greg Meeuwissen, Michael Ihaka, Dre Jacobson, Tama Hill and Mohi Kingi are part of the FENZ crew that left last night.Sullivan's son Nathan and Martin Marshall will lead a crew of 10 that includes Lizzie Holmes, Luke Feaver, Jeremy Pohe, Hayden Bain, Te Awatea Paraha, Borja, Sarchuk, and Sharif Mangu, that depart today.Nathan has fought fires in Victoria, Tasmania, Canada, and the Chatham Islands while Ihaka— son of FPS owner Kevin Ihaka— has been to stints in Victoria and Tasmania.
Marshall has been deployed to Tasmania, Victoria, Chathams, and to the Port Hill fires in the South Island.
Mangu has been to the Chathams in 2017.
Mike Sullivan, himself an experienced firefighter, said the Whangārei crews would initially work five days on, one-day off, then five days on shifts.
"The crew that's leaving on Monday will be tasked by New South Wales forestry to do anything from firefighting to preparing land in case it's impacted by fires, to protecting structures, and backburning."
An early start to bush fires in the two states has hit people offguard, he said.
"Those fires normally start around late December. A million hectares were burnt in NSW when we were there in 2003 and a similar area is normally burnt in Victoria in a season.
"But NSW achieved that in just two months this time round. The crews in NSW are tiring a bit so our involvement means they can have a bit of rest," Sullivan said.
Kevin Ihaka said an early start to bush fires meant crews would be working through the festive season.
"Over the years, we've had young people develop their firefighting skills and they've had a really good experience in New Zealand as well as overseas and it's great for them.
"They can practice their skills on long deployments overseas, unlike New Zealand where they have short deployments," he said.
Whangārei firefighters are due back by the end of November.
The New Zealand crews will be working up to 14-hour shifts for two five-day rotations.
There will be a rest day between the rotations and a travel day on either side.