21 Jan 2019

NZ firefighters to help contain Tasmanian bush fires

4:48 pm on 21 January 2019

New Zealand firefighters will join those from New South Wales and Tasmania to help battle raging bushfires in Australia's southern-most state.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The fires have been burning since late December, in the Gell River area, after a heatwave and a period of lightning strikes and high winds.

The fires were burning across 20,000 hectares of mountainous terrain.

Haze from bushfire smoke is blanketing several Tasmanian towns, with hot and dry conditions across the state and more than 30 blazes already burning setting the scene for a nervous few days.

South of Hobart, air quality monitoring data measured smoke particles at 8.00am as being at elevated levels, with Geeveston at 35 times that of Hobart.

Residents living in the Huon Valley, where smoke from the bushfire at Gell River has filled the sky, posted on social media that many had not seen conditions as bad, with some mentioning 1967 as the only year which came close - the year of Tasmania's worst fire disaster.

On Facebook, George Henry Ross asked locals if they had ever seen so much smoke haze around the valley.

"I can't remember a summer like it," he said, with many agreeing.

Eric Bat said he had been chatting with a bloke who did remember a summer like it: 1967.

"We rather hoped things have improved since then."

New Zealand firefighters to help

A seven-person team from New Zealand will fly out on Tuesday, followed by a 21-person team of remote area firefighters on Wednesday.

New Zealand Fire and Emergency' national manager rural operations John Rasmussen said they would encounter "extremely tough conditions".

"They must be physically and mentally fit enough to work in steep and remote areas, being flown in and out by helicopter. The conditions will be very hot and dry.

"Our team of specialist, trained incident management personnel will be undertaking roles for planning, intelligence and aviation support across the state, while the firefighters will be flown into remote locations each day."

It was the 23rd time New Zealand firefighters had been sent overseas since 2000.

They will join firefighters from New South Wales and Tasmania in the next few days, adding to the 115 interstate personnel already here.

'Fire under those conditions is going to be extremely difficult to control'

In the state's Central Highlands, the town of Miena remains on alert, with a nearby bushfire threatening the community and large amounts of firefighting resources in place should the situation worsen, with over 5000 hectares already burnt.

Tasmania Fire Service acting station officer Darren Gye said authorities were doing everything they could to prepare for the upcoming hot conditions.

"Even with all the fantastic success we've had so far, fire under those conditions is going to be extremely difficult to control and we can expect that it is likely that some of those containment lines may not hold."

As of Monday 10.00am, Miena and the Central Plateau was under bushfire advice level, a level down from watch and act.

"We've been liaising with police and SES [State Emergency Service] and plans are in place, we've door-knocked the area plans are in place for those people to either stay and defend or there is a plan to evacuate if conditions worsen."


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