New Zealand/Australia — A fresh wave of New Zealand firefighters leaves tomorrow to help fight bushfires that have extended firefighting resources in remote areas of Victoria.
Firefighters are battling two massive bushfires burning out of control in the east of the state.
The Aberfeldy fire in Gippsland has burned through more than 82,800 hectares since the middle of January and a major fire in the state’s alpine region has burned almost 25,000 hectares.
The Kiwi team of 44 will be New Zealand’s second-largest deployment of rural firefighters, said National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield.
The largest, 109 firefighters, was deployed to Victoria in 2009.
Over their 16 day deployment, the New Zealanders will continue the work to contain the large bushfires burning in the Gippsland area.
“The forest and land management firefighters in Victoria are feeling the strain of almost two months of hard, hot, difficult work. Our guys are fresh and raring to go and will help give the locals a break,” Dudfield said.
The team has been chosen for their fitness, chainsaw and controlled burning skills along with their ability to live out in the open, he said.
The team is made up of the National Rural Authority New Zealand liaison officer, Kerry Hilliard, a taskforce leader, two sector supervisors, and 40 rural firefighters of which half are from the Department of Conservation and half from the forestry sector.
They have been chosen from areas in New Zealand that are unlikely to face a fire risk within the next few weeks.
In January, 13 firefighters were sent to help fight bushfires in remote areas of Tasmania.
“This deployment is a reflection of the strong relationship New Zealand fire authorities have built with their Australian counterparts over the years to share training, knowledge, and research and provide assistance to each other when needed,” Dudfield said.
Rural firefighters are not New Zealand Fire Service personnel. They are generally Department of Conservation forestry personnel, or rural people, who volunteer and train as a rural fire fighting force.