Firefighters off to Australia

21:36, Feb 13 2013

Southern rural firefighters will fly to Australia this morning to help with firefighting in Victoria.

The five firefighters will be deployed to the Gippsland area, where massive bushfires are burning out of control.

Principal rural fire officer Mike Grant said the men would be part of a team of more than 40 New Zealand firefighters, the largest deployment of rural firefighters since 2009.

The firefighters were forestry contractors from the Gore and Mataura areas, Mr Grant said. They would be working and camping in rugged forest terrain for three weeks.

"Part of their job would be prescribed burning - using fire to fight fire," he said.

This meant using a low-intensity fire to remove dead material in the forest, referred to as fuel, so that when a major fire spread it would be less intense.

Mr Grant said the men were chosen because of their chainsaw and controlled-burning skills, and their experience of being out in the open and alpine areas. "Australia requested people with chainsaw and conservation experience, which these guys have."

Forestry contract owner Warren Heslip would be the crew leader; he had a lot of experience, Mr Grant said. He was on a national register, had been deployed to Australia in 2009, and had played a key role among rural firefighters since the group started in 2003.

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