Former Dunedin woman warns of ‘mega fire’

8:02 am on 8 January 2020

By Daisy Hudson for the Otago Daily Times

A former Dunedin woman now leading Victoria's bushfire response says the deadly blaze is poised to become ''one large megafire''.

This handout satellite image taken and received on January 3, 2020 from the Japan Meteorological Agency shows an image from the Himawari-8 satellite of Australia, with smoke (bottom R) from bushfires visably drifting off the coast of southeast New South Wales state.

Photo: AFP

Victorian Country Fire Authority deputy chief officer Dr Stephanie Rotarangi left her role as Otago principal rural fire officer in 2016 to join an agency that manages 1200 career fighters and about 60,000 volunteers.

As part of the bushfire response, she has also been serving as Victorian state response controller, working with all emergency agencies.

At least 25 people and millions of animals have died as a result of the fires since September.

Dr Rotarangi said Victoria was one of the most bushfire-prone places in the world.

''We are dealing with agencies and communities that are well used to dealing with fire.

''But the scale and significance of these fires is unprecedented for us as a state, and us as a country.

''We're really working with quite new fire behaviour.''

While Dr Rotarangi was managing the state response, her husband, former Dunedin firefighter Anthony Rotarangi, was battling the blaze on the frontline.

Conditions had improved slightly over the past couple of days, but both strong winds and high temperatures were forecast for Friday.

Fires covered an area of 1.2 million ha in Victoria as of yesterday afternoon.

''We're very much planning for a response that will last until the end of April,'' Dr Rotarangi said.

''The fires are of a size where they're all starting to merge, and there is real concern that the southeastern part of Victoria will end up with one large megafire.''

She said she had been overwhelmed by the support from New Zealanders, and those in Otago.

Her work in Otago had also helped in her new job, she said.

''There are a lot of skills I learned in Otago that have been really beneficial to my role now.''

- This story was first published on the Otago Daily Times website.

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