8 Mar 2009

Firefighters return from battling Victorian blazes

2:58 pm on 8 March 2009

More New Zealand firefighters have arrived home after three weeks battling bushfires in Victoria.

A crew of 16, made up of Defence Force personnel and Department of Conservation rural firefighters, touched down at Wellington airport on Saturday afternoon aboard a Hercules C-130.

Paul Prip from Taranaki DoC says his team was doing a lot of back-burning work to stop the fires spreading into the Warburton catchment. He described what he saw as "mind blowing", especially seeing areas where fire had travelled 40 kilometres in just 40 minutes.

Sergeant Major Wayne Bramley says his team was mainly involved in back burning to protect access to reservoirs. He says they were relatively safe, but there were some close calls when trees fell down in close proximity to his crew, which kept them on edge.

Meanwhile, Victoria's bushfires have forced California's fire chiefs to put on hold a plan to introduce a controversial "leave early or stay and defend" policy.

Parts of California were set to follow Australia's lead with the policy, but last month's Black Saturday bushfires, which left at least 210 people dead, may result in the plan being scrapped altogether.

The policy involves training residents to either flee the path of a bushfire early, or hunker down and defend their homes by putting out spot fires and clearing brush.

Studies had shown trained residents could put out spot fires and save homes if they remained on their premises, but this approach resulted in many deaths in Victoria.