Crew fly to fight Aussie fires

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 07:21 15/02/2013
Richie Law
Emma Allen

Call of duty: Marlborough rural firefighters, from left, Richie Law, Dave Koubek with daughter Mia Koubek, 9 months, Chris Hayles, Phil Hodson, Quintin ‘‘Spud’’ Morgan, with daughter Ashlee Morgan, 14 months, and Jim Herdman about to leave Blenheim to tackle bush fires in Australia.

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A crew of Marlborough rural firefighters fought hard to be deployed to Australia to battle bushfires burning in Victoria.

Crew leader Chris Hayles and his team of four firefighters, along with a Department of Conservation rural fire officer, left Blenheim yesterday via Wellington to join up with the rest of the 44-strong New Zealand volunteers headed to Australia.

The crew would most likely be sent to Mt Hotham, in east Victoria, where two Australian firefighters were killed on Wednesday battling a 27,000 hectare fire in Harrietville.

Mr Hayles spent three weeks in Victoria in 2009 fighting the Black Saturday bushfires that killed 173 people. He was also one of four Marlborough firefighters sent to Australia in 2005 to tour the areas around Canberra where bushfires in 2003 destroyed 480 houses and killed eight people.

He fought hard to get his crew deployed after an official letter from the Australian government requested the help of skilled rural firefighters from New Zealand.

The crew is part of the New Zealand Rural Fire Response team, who are available for deployment around the country and internationally at short notice.

Their skills and experience in rural firefighting matched the skills needed in Australia, Mr Hayles said.

"We're all experienced firefighters with forestry skills, too, which is exactly what they need over there."

His wife, Dale Hayles, said while it was tough when her husband left, she was confident in the crew's ability.

"They're all trained and they know what they're doing. I don't worry about his safety, but there's always an element of fear."

The couple's two young children, aged 5 and 9, were terrified about their dad going to fight fires in Australia, she said.

"As soon as there's a fire in Australia, Chris makes sure he's up-to-date so the kids have seen videos and know about what's going on."

It is believed the men will sleep in tents and work long hours, sometimes up to 18 hours a day.

Mrs Hayles is proud of her husband for getting his crew over there.

"He's worked so hard to get this deployment," she said.

"They all have a lot of forestry experience - there's a lot of tree felling and chopping trees over there. It's not just holding a hose."

The team flew to Melbourne yesterday and are expected to return to Blenheim on March 4.

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- The Marlborough Express

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