Kiwi help for California fire effort

Kiwi help for California fire effort

13 July 2008

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New Zealand/USA — Nine New Zealand firefighters are heading to the United States to help exhausted counterparts battling out-of-control wildfires.

The rural firefighters will hit the frontline in California where more than a million hectares of land has been burnt.

Answering an emergency call from half a world away, the nine rural firefighters were briefed on what lies ahead as they head to help exhausted firefighters, currently battling more than 300 wildfires.

As they prepared to leave on Sunday, they were told to advise family they may not be in contact with them for 14 days because they may be working in alpine areas.

Jock Darragh of the Rural Fire Authority says the firefighters have to be medically and physically fit because they’re working in a very harsh environment in temperatures of 40 degrees plus.

California’s Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, appealed to the White House for help last week after long months battling the blazes that have claimed two lives and dozens of homes.

“There is no more fire season. We have fires all year round and what it means now is that we need more resources,” he said.

High in California’s northern hills, the relentless fight goes on against the dry summer blazes that at their peak numbered nearly 2,000.

And it’s those exhausted firefighters the Kiwis will be helping to manage, ever mindful of the danger and lessons learned nearly two years ago when four Kiwi firefighters were overcome by a massive fireball in Victoria.

“It was a terrible instant and it shows you how quick things can go wrong on a fire ground.” says Darrah.

There were lessons learned from the incident that should see the New Zealanders all home safe and sound in just over a month.

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