More firefighters crossing the Tasman

Rural firemen to battle Victorian bushfires

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:00 18/02/2014
Ralph Kingston
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
NEW EXPERIENCE: Firefighters Lee Beloe, left, Dean Hewitt, Nathan Palmer, Graham Staples and Steve Packer at Nelson Airport before flying to Australia to help fight forest fires.

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Five nervous yet excited Nelson men left for Australia yesterday to help fight the Victorian bushfires.

Led by Action Forest Management silviculture crew boss Graham Staples, the crew includes two of his AFM co-workers, Dean Hewitt and Steve Packer, and Lee Beloe and Nathan Palmer, of the Brightwater Volunteer Rural Fire Force.

"It's a new experience," said Mr Staples. "Australian firefighting is totally different. There's no water and it's more about containment than fighting fires."

The group expect to be armed with picks and shovels rather than fire hoses as they help build containment lines designed to steer the blazing fires around rural settlements.

The crew was among 18 experienced rural Kiwi firefighters who left for Melbourne yesterday, where they will be briefed before being deployed to bolster numbers in priority fire areas.

The tour is no walk in the park, with volunteers expected to work two shifts of seven 12-hour days with a short break in between.

"It'll be like going over there and joining an army," Mr Staples said.

The crew is the second from Nelson and the third from New Zealand to fly to Victoria this summer.

The first crew, led by Motueka Rural Fire Force incident controller Colin Eggers, left Nelson on January 27 and is due home on Saturday.

They were among 22 New Zealand rural firefighters called on to help their Australian counterparts contain raging bush fires in the remote Gippsland region in Victoria.

A second deployment of 22 New Zealand firefighters left for Australia in early February.

National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield, who flew over the region recently , said the first Nelson crew has been fighting uncontrolled wildfires in Goongerah region of east Gippsland which started from lightning strikes and have been burning across remote bushlands.

Waimea Rural Fire Authority principal fire officer Ian Reade said the authority had weighed up if it could risk sending a second crew to Australia.

"But we expect some rain in the next week and it's pretty good season for us to do this sort of thing."

In addition, the deployed firefighters returned with invaluable experience and skills.

AFM manager Robin Thompson said Mr Staples was experienced in rural firefighting and had worked in forestry for much of his life.

Losing experienced staff would put the company slightly behind in its work programme "but we will be able to handle it".

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