11 Feb 2009

NZ fire team prepares to fly to Victoria

7:29 pm on 11 February 2009

New Zealand firefighters will head to Australia on Friday to help fight the bushfires in Victoria which have killed at least 181 people.

Thousands of families are homeless, living in tent cities on the rim of the disaster areas near Melbourne. More than 1030 homes have been destroyed and 330,000 hectares have been burnt.

The 53-strong team of firefighters, crew leaders and management staff will leave from Auckland on a New Zealand Defence Force Boeing 757.

National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield said the team will have remote high country and forestry firefighting experience.

The firefighters will provide relief and rest days for Australian crews who have been on duty since the weekend and they will be there for 18 days.

A specialist New Zealand firefighting helicopter has been sent to Victoria, where it will play a key role in dousing the deadly bushfires.

The crew of the Russian-made helicopter cleared customs in Kerikeri early on Wednesday and set off for Australia via Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island. The journey to Melbourne was expected to take about 15 hours.

Heli Harvest operations manager Qwilton Biel says the five-member crew will begin work in Victoria on Thursday morning, and are expected to be needed in Australia for several weeks.

The helicopter is equipped with a 30-metre steel cable long-line which Mr Biel says allows the 5,000-litre bucket to be put into water sources while the helicopter remains well above any obstacles.

It is the fourth time the Heli Harvest helicopter, based in Taupo, has been asked to help during an Australian fire season.

Police team sent to Australia

Six members of a New Zealand specialist police team travelled to Australia on Wednesday to help identify victims of the bushfires. The victim identification team includes forensic staff.

Hospitals in New Zealand have offered to help care for burns victims from the bushfires.

Units at Middlemore, Waikato, Hutt and Christchurch hospitals are ready to receive and treat injured Australians if needed.

Dr Richard Wong, of the National Burns Centre, said services in Victoria are coping at present, but there will be further talks with the state if the situation worsens.

NZ donations pour in

New Zealanders are giving generously to those affected by the Victorian bushfires and MPs on Tuesday extended sympathy and condolences to survivors.

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand has a special bond with Australia and the outpouring of support from New Zealanders is genuine and heartfelt.

MPs stood in silence for a minute as a mark of respect for those who have lost their lives.

New Zealanders have so far donated $370,000 to the New Zealand Red Cross, which is reminding people that cash rather than clothing or other goods is best. Extra phone lines have had to be put in because the donation line has been overloaded.

The Salvation Army received donations totalling $3,000 in the first few hours of opening its phone line.

The New Zealand Government has donated $500,000 to victims of the bushfires.

Hastings district councillors have voted to donate $10,000 to help those whose lives have been devastated by the bushfires.

A fundraising appeal for bushfire victims was held during the one-day cricket match between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide on Tuesday. The New Zealand TAB donated all its profits from betting on the match to the appeal.

The Australian Red Cross says it has been overwhelmed by the generosity of those donating to its bushfire appeal. Nearly $A32 million has been raised in Australia so far.