On January 6, the Bureau of Land Management announced that four more Oregon firefighters have been deployed to Australia, to aid in combating the bushfires that have been raging since August.
The four firefighters hail from Vale, Prineville, and Burns, and boast “expertise in air tactical support, wildland fire incident management, and firefighter crew leadership.” A National Interagency Fire Center spokesperson told Willamette Week that these additions bring the number of Oregonian firefighters in Australia up to 15.
U.S. assistance is not limited to firefighters, either. Tim Klukas, a fire management analyst from Portland, has been down under since December 21, 2019. In a phone interview with KGW News, Klukas paints a hellish picture: “It’s a very extreme situation when those orange, cloud-like conditions occur and it can block out the sky.”
CNN reports that there are 136 fires burning in New South Wales alone, which have cost the lives of 18 people and 480 million animals. Overall, 14.7 million acres across the country have been burnt.
According to Klukas, a key function of the American reinforcements is providing some much-needed relief to the 2,700 Australian firefighters currently in action.
“The personnel on the ground here have been at it for 45 days or better,” he said. “They are mostly volunteers and so what that means is they have had a severe impact to their livelihood because they’re no longer at their day jobs.”
Klukas also acknowledges the personal losses the Australians have suffered, as 1,300 homes on New South Wales have been destroyed by the fires.
“In many cases, some of the volunteers have also lost some structures, some of them lost their homes, and certainly they need time to deal with that,” he said. “And then people also just need time to decompress get some relief from stress.”
A press release from the BLM stats that “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,” and that “The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.”