Department of Conservation firefighters leaving Queenstown
yesterday for Melbourne, to help fight the Victorian
bushfires are (from left) Patrick Eschenmoser, of Wanaka,
Jamie Cowan, of Queenstown, Mark Mawhinney, of Queenstown,
Gerard Hill, of Te Anau, and Gavin Udy, of Clyde, pictured
with son Lucas (2) and partner Rebecca Thomas. Photo by
On the same day two Australian firefighters were killed
while fighting the Victorian bushfires, five Otago firefighters
took on the job of helping across the Tasman and will begin
duty this morning.
New Zealand's National Rural Fire Authority yesterday sent
its second-largest deployment of 44 firefighters to Victoria
to help boost the Australian Fire Authority and beat the
bushfires in the Gippsland area started by lightning on
The New Zealand contingent of 44 comes second only to 2009's
deployment of 109 firefighters to the same state. Five
Department of Conservation firemen from the Otago region flew
out of Queenstown yesterday morning to arrive in Melbourne
last night via Wellington.
Doc Queenstown rural fire chief officer Jamie Cowan returns
to Victoria for a second time, after firefighting in April
Mr Cowan said although that experience would help him know
what to expect, the 12- to 16-hour days and seven-day rosters
would be fatiguing.
''It has been a long fire season for them. It is part of what
we do and it is what we train for.''
''I am much more comfortable roughly knowing what I'm going
Mr Cowan is joined by fellow Otago Doc firefighters Gavin
Udy, of Queenstown, Patrick Eschenmoser, of Wanaka, Gerard
Hill, of Queenstown, and Mark Mawhinney, of Queenstown.
With less than 24 hours' notice, the men each said their
rushed goodbyes to their partners and children before
boarding in Queenstown to fly to Wellington where they were
to board a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane with 39 other
firefighters and ''a lot of gear''.
''They [family] are a little bit used to me going out on jobs
for days at a time; they're very supportive,'' Mr Cowan said.
''It's another adventure.''
Heading to Australia for his first fire visit, Mr Mawhinney
was a little more hesitant.
''There's no question about it - there is a bit of
apprehension, especially after being told this morning two of
the Australians were killed there.''
National Rural fire officer Murray Dudfield said the 44
firefighters would be working among ''tall timber alpine'',
but could not confirm exactly where they would be deployed
once they landed in Melbourne.
''They will be out in the fire line, building fire breaks,
pulling down trees and pouring on the water.''
Of the 44, five are from Otago, five from Southland, two from
Hokitika, five from Marlborough and one from Canterbury.
Half of the firefighters are from the department and 22 are
Mr Dudfield said once the men were in Australia, they would
be dedicated to the Australian agency and he would get
feedback every day to inform their families.
The National Rural Fire Authority received an official
request from its Australian counterpart on Monday and
notified those on the list they would be going on Wednesday.
On that same day, two Australian firefighters, a woman in her
late teens and a man in his 30s, were killed when a tree fell
on their vehicle in a remote valley near the town of
Fire crews have been battling the Harrietville fire since
January 21 and it has so far burned through 27,000ha. Four
firefighters have died this summer while working on
Australian bushfires. The 44 firefighters will be based
within a mobile camp set up by the Australian national fire
authority and will return in April.