NIFC sending more crews to Australian fire lines

Posted at 11:57 AM, Jan 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-23 09:54:21-05

BOISE, Idaho — As wildfires continue to burn in Australia, the United States is sending additional U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service wildfire personnel to assist with ongoing bushfire suppression efforts in Australia.

Three ten-person Incident Management Teams and a group consisting of air support personnel have arrived in Australia in recent days.

Additionally, two twenty-person hand crews will be travelling to Australia Wednesday. These crews are federal firefighters from throughout the United States.

The U.S. has already deployed more than 200 U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior wildland fire staff to the Australian Bushfire response.

“Recent rains have been a welcome relief to fire crews and communities across Australia, but have not extinguished the risk, “said Stuart Ellis, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council CEO. “We are grateful for the arrival of U.S. fire task force personnel this week. Australia is a large country, and while we have seen generous rain fall in the past few days in some areas, we are still experiencing kilometers of active fire front and a large clean-up ahead of us. We’re halfway through the summer -- and there are still challenges ahead for us this season.”

U.S. Forest Service Fire Director Shawna Legarza recently returned from Australia in support of the bushfire response. “The large, landscape-scale devastation is unprecedented in terms of its impact on Australian economy, its people and their communities -- and the effect to numerous ecosystems and habitats. It was humbling to observe the Australians’ resilience, the response in Australia, and level of support from our agency. We will continue to learn from each other in this complex fire environment.”

Based on requests from AFAC, USFS and DOI, wildland fire personnel have been deployed and will continue to provide assistance as requested through the existing agreement. The U.S. firefighters are filling critical wildfire and aviation management roles in New South Wales and Victoria.

“Australia is only halfway through their summer season and they’re still dealing with unprecedented fire suppression efforts. This recent group of crews will assist with on-the-ground fire suppression, in addition to personnel who’ve been filling fire management roles. DOI will continue to help our Australian partners in any way we can,” said DOI Director of the Office of Wildland Fire Jeff Rupert.

The U.S., Australia and New Zealand have been exchanging fire assistance for more than fifteen years. The most recent exchange occurred in August of 2018, when 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel were sent to the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California and the Northwest.

The Australian and New Zealand personnel filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, heavy equipment, helicopter operations, and structure protection.

(photo courtesy: NIFC/BLM)