Kiwi crews join Tasmania fire fight

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 19:20 10/01/2013

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New Zealand's fire fighting contingent have joined the effort to quell raging bushfires in Tasmania after absorbing the extent of the devastation - and the dangers they face - at a briefing in Hobart.

Shortly after being educated on the terrain and fire conditions they can expect to confront during a 16-day deployment, the two six-member teams from Northland and Nelson separated to  tackle blazes that spread unabated today in the island's centre and northwest.

One group headed to Lake Repulse inland from Hobart to try to  prevent flames spreading to the Mt Thunderbolt forestry reserve.

The blaze, ignited last week when a camp fire was left unattended, has destroyed more than 11,000 hectares of grassland although remote households have not yet been affected.

New Zealand National Rural Fire Authority rural fire manager John Barnes said the other group was  sent to Montumana, on Tasmania's northwest coast about five hours drive from Hobart, another serious flash point.

The Kiwis are accompanied by staff from Forestry Tasmania to ease their transition - the majority are encountering Australian fire conditions for the first time, including Northlander Clea Gardiner, the contingent's only female.

Barnes said the Department of Conservation staff and forestry workers were relishing the opportunity to relieve locals weary after battling multiple fire fronts since last week.

The New Zealanders were guided to the fire zones where they face a five day block of 12 hours shifts before resting for 48 hours.

Barnes said although the deployment ended after 16 days the New Zealanders may be asked to stay on or be redeployed to other bushfire-ravaged locations in Victoria or New South Wales.

They will either camp in tents or take advantage of homestead accommodation. They have also been warned to be vigilant  for snakes - medical kits include snake bite medication.

Although the heatwave enveloping Australia has eased in Tasmania, there was no cause for complacency as residents of the blackened community of Dunalley attempted to return home to assess the damage.

Over the past decade New Zealand rural fire fighters have regularly crossed the Tasman to assist their Australian counterparts. The largest continent, of 110, was dispatched to Victoria in 2009.

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