Firefighters dodge falling trees in Australia
Thursday 24 Jan 2013 10:50 a.m.
A Kiwi firefighter who helped battle blazes across the ditch says falling trees posed a bigger threat to her safety than fires and snakes.
Thirteen Kiwis were deployed to Tasmania after massive blazes tore through towns, destroying homes, workplaces and large areas of bushland.
The fires have been fanned by record temperatures across Australia, and Clea Gardner says there were fears on the team they wouldn’t be able to cope with the heat.
"The thing that struck us is it wasn't as hot as we had expected," she told Firstline this morning. "That was my main concern about going."
The first couple of fires they handled without too much trouble.
"The first fire, which was about 3500 hectares, was terrain that we're used to – undulating terrain, so that wasn't too tough.
"We went then to a six-hectare fire, quite a small fire, steep ground where there were harvested logs.
But then the New Zealanders found themselves in the unfamiliar situation of having to avoid burnt-out trees, crashing to the ground around them.
"The last fire that we were on was 11,500 hectares, and that's when it got very steep – rocky ground that had been described as the rockiest, steepest, hardest country in Tasmania."
"I think the New Zealanders sort of coped with the steepness and rockiness. What was new to us was trees crashing down around us – that's something that we're not used to.
"Trees that were 20 to 30 metres high that had been burned out in the centre, would randomly crash down without any warning at all. All you'd hear is them thunder to the ground."
Ms Gardner says fears of being bitten by snakes and burned alive "paled into significance" compared to the threat of being crushed by a tree.
"A lot of luck was involved that day."