▶️ Central Oregon firefighters headed to Australia to help with catastrophic blazes

By MEGHAN GLOVA
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY

Three Central Oregon firefighters are on the way to Australia to help with suppression efforts on a continent ravaged by wildfires.

The blazes there have burned more than 12 million acres.

“We are able to do this because we have very highly qualified firefighters,” said Kassidy Kern, public affairs specialist with the Deschutes National Forest. “We’re not just sending anybody. We’re sending specific people right now that are needed in that area.”

Kern says the firefighters – part of the Central Oregon Fire Management Service – have much-needed air operations experience.

One has incident-command experience as well.

The BLM in Oregon/Washington also announced Monday that it has deployed four firefighters to assist Australia with the prolific wildfires spread throughout the country. These firefighters include staff from the BLM Vale, Prineville, and Burns Districts that have accompanied 13 other interagency Pacific Northwest firefighters also assisting Australia.

The BLM firefighters from Oregon/Washington being deployed to Australia include expertise in air tactical support, wildland fire incident management, and firefighter crew leadership.

Fires that started to burn in August have continued uninterrupted with large areas of both New South Wales and Queensland burned, multiple property losses, and fatalities. Fire conditions continue to challenge in New South Wales and Queensland, while new fires are causing concern further south in Victoria. Fire conditions in Australia are extreme due to an extended drought, hot temperatures, and relative humidity in the single digits.

The last fire assistance between the two countries was in August 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 Pacific 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.

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group is working with the National Interagency Coordination Center to mobilize resources and distribute the request across interagency partners. The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.

Kern expects even more firefighters from our area to be sent in the weeks to come.

“Whenever we’ve had big fire years, we call in our neighbors (Australia and New Zealand) who in their world are experiencing winter during our fire seasons, same right now,” Kern said. “So whenever you have people who are highly qualified in these areas, you help where you can because you really understand what this means to have fires in your communities.”

The firefighters are expected to spend about 30 days on assignment.

And for their safety, they shouldn’t be gone much longer than that.

“We need to get everybody home safely,” she said. “And so the way to do that is to put some parameters on those assignments so they can work really hard when they’re down there, and then get a fresh group of people to come in and take over.”

Kern says in a way, the Australia fires hit close to home even half way across the world, knowing how devastating a wildfire can be to a community, yet alone a country.

“This is not just about the fire. It’s about all of the impacts that come with catastrophic wildfire like they’re dealing with right now,” she said. “So really our hearts go out to them, and so we were happy to help when we can.”

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