8 things to know about the deployment of US firefighters to Australia

Hundreds of U.S. firefighters are currently deployed or tasked to deploy to assist their Australian counterparts in battling the worst wildfires in the continent’s history


The U.S. and Australia have a long history of trading wildfire assistance; read Chief Sam DiGiovanna's analysis of why that relationship is more important now than ever. 

This article, originally published on Jan. 8, 2020, has been updated with current information. 

In Australia, wildfires have been raging out of control since September during the continent’s hottest year on record. The flames have claimed 30 lives so far and destroyed more than 2,500 homes.

Here’s what you should know about the deployment of U.S. firefighters:

A firefighter uses his phone to record a controlled burn near Tomerong, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in an effort to contain a larger fire nearby. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
A firefighter uses his phone to record a controlled burn near Tomerong, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in an effort to contain a larger fire nearby. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

1. Three U.S. firefighters have lost their lives. On Jan. 23, an aerial tanker crashed in the mountains near the Australian capital of Canberra, killing all on board, including three U.S. firefighters. 

2. Australia has helped the U.S. in the past. In 2018, the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council sent 139 firefighters to help with wildfires in California. The two countries have been trading fire service assistance for the last 15 years.

3. Only federal employees can be mobilized by the U.S. Under the terms of the plan, "Wildfire Arrangement Between the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America and the Australian and New Zealand Participating Agencies," only federal employees are eligible to be mobilized by the U.S. government. 

4. It’s historic. Since December, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has coordinated the deployment of more than 250 U.S. firefighters to Australia for the first time since 2010, most of whom are part of the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. This is the largest deployment of U.S. firefighters abroad, according to a spokesman from the NIFC.

5. Crews are working in all capacities. While in Australia, U.S. firefighters will assist with every aspect of the job, from joining Australian forces at the front lines to wildfire management and aviation management roles.

6. U.S. firefighters are being educated on the wildlife. The animal and insect population in Australia is very different from the U.S. It is home to 170 different snake species, of which more than 100 are venomous, as well as a variety of other deadly animals and bugs. U.S. firefighters are being given a brief education on what to do if they come across an animal and what to do if they are bitten or stung.

The Australian fires have claimed the lives of an estimated one billion animals, according to scientists, many who fear the fires will wipe out entire species or permanently alter ecosystems. 

7. Firefighters hope to learn from the experience. Working in a foreign terrain with a foreign service that has different ways of doing things can be eye-opening for U.S.-based firefighters. For many, traveling abroad was something they couldn’t pass up.

“A lot had to do with the experience that you’re able to get with going to a different country and learn how do they fight fire,” Firefighter Hector Cerna told CNN. “Maybe learn tactics that we never thought of and gaining knowledge, really, of firefighting.”

8. Crews are appreciated by the locals. A video from Jan. 9 shows U.S. firefighters arriving at Sydney Airport to a crowd of cheering supporters. 

 

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