13 Feb 2009

NZ firefighters join bushfire effort

9:21 pm on 13 February 2009

A group of New Zealand firefighters flew to Victoria on Friday to help control raging bushfires and provide relief their their Australian counterparts.

The devastating fires, which began on Saturday, have killed 181 people and 7,000 are homeless.

Prime Minister John Key farewelled the group at Auckland International Airport on Friday afternoon, saying he wished them well and is "incredibly proud" of what they are doing.

Mr Key says the fires are horrific and officers will have a tough and challenging task ahead.

He told them the scale of the fires is hard to comprehend, and the New Zealand and the Australian governments are very grateful for their efforts.

Fifty-one national rural fire officers from throughout New Zealand and five firefighers from the Defence Force are being sent to Victoria. The team will be there for 18 days.

Four police victim recovery dogs and their handlers will also be on the Air Force flight.

A specialist New Zealand firefighting helicopter has already been sent to Victoria.

Donations keep pouring in

The New Zealand Red Cross says it is continuing to receive strong financial support for victims of the bushfires.

More than $1.2 million has been received to date, including $769,000 in public donations and $500,000 from the New Zealand Government.

Kelly Mitchell from the Red Cross says the fact the disaster is occuring so close to home appears to have struck a chord with many New Zealanders - many of whom have family and friends living in Victoria.

The ASB Bank has also opened a trust account to receive donations for victims of the fires.

Funds from both appeals will go directly to the Victorian Premier's Bushfire Relief Fund.