Australian firefighters "happy to help" in Northwest
Australian firefighters "happy to help" in Northwest University of Alaska, Fairbanks, firefighting students Casey Lasota, left, and Harold Stein work to cool hotspots left from a wildfire Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015, in Chelan, Wash. Firefighters across the West saw little relief over the weekend as wildfires raged in the drought-stricken region, but for those in Washington, other states will soon provide additional resources. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Australian firefighters "happy to help" in Northwest
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The mountainous conditions in the Pacific Northwest will be nothing new to the dozens of firefighters from Australia and New Zealand who have arrived to help battle the many blazes burning unchecked in the region.
"We're used to tall timber and steep territory," said Warren Heslip, a 47-year-old firefighter from Southland, New Zealand.
Heslip was among the 71 firefighters from the southern region who picked up equipment at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, before heading out to help a ground campaign led by firefighters from across the West and augmented by U.S. soldiers.
The flames that claimed the lives of three firefighters in Washington, injured four others and burned 200 homes also inspired an outpouring of volunteers who have been invited for the first time in Washington state history to help battle the blazes.
This summer's fire response across the West has been overwhelmed by destructive blazes tearing through the tinder-dry region.
The biggest fire as of Aug. 24 was in Washington's Okanogan County on the Canadian border, where a group of five fires raging out of control became the largest in state history, scorching more than 400 square miles, spokesman Rick Isaacson said.
Lightning-sparked fires broke the state record, surpassing blazes that destroyed more than 300 homes in the same county last year.
"I'd like to set some different records," Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.
The U.S. is in the midst of one of its worst fire seasons on record with some 11,600 square miles scorched so far. It's only the sixth-worst going back to 1960, but it's the most acreage burned by this date in a decade, so the ranking is sure to rise.
So many fires are burning in Washington that managers are taking extreme measures, summoning help from abroad and 200 U.S. troops from a base in Tacoma in the first such use of active-duty soldiers in nine years.
Jim Whittington, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman in Portland, Oregon, said military assets cannot be used against wildfires until all civilian resources are deployed.
Since 1987, active duty military personnel have been mobilized to serve as wild land firefighters a total of 35 times. The last time was in 2006.
Since then, it has not been necessary to ask for military assistance until this fire season, Forest Service officials said.
Nearly 4,000 volunteers also answered the state's call for help. It was far more than will be accepted, said state Department of Natural Resources spokesman Joe Smillie.
The state is looking for former firefighters or heavy equipment operators who can bulldoze fire lines to corral the blazes and keep them from spreading in mountainous, timber-covered areas. So far, about 200 people with the right experience have been cleared to work.
The dozens of firefighters from Australia and New Zealand were being outfitted to fill a critical shortage of mid-level fire managers such as equipment bosses, strike team leaders and supervisors.
The Southern Hemisphere nations have been partners with the U.S. for more than 50 years. Australia and New Zealand are able to lend firefighters because the severest parts of their fire seasons occur at opposite times of the year. The last time the U.S. asked for their help was 2008. Fifty firefighters arrived. The U.S. sent firefighters abroad in 2007.
Costs for the international firefighters will be paid by the agency they're assigned to, officials said, though no estimate was yet available.
Chris Arnol, international liaison for Australia and New Zealand firefighters, said in Boise that the firefighters were ready to assist.
"We understand how tough it is for you guys and we're happy to help," he said.
Simon Martin, 40, a firefighter from Collie, Australia, agreed.
"I'm sure there are a lot of fatigued firefighters out there," he said.

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Why are firefighters coming from as far as New Zealand to fight these fires?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • jakeg-cam
    8/31/2015 - 07:38 p.m.

    The fires are too strong for the Americans to control by them selves.

  • sjorse-cam
    8/31/2015 - 07:41 p.m.

    Because Australia and NZ have opoisite fire seasons to u.s. so they can help each other like they have for the last 50 years.

  • sierrab-ste
    9/02/2015 - 09:09 a.m.

    Thank goodness for the fire fighters and their braveness. My grandma lives in Okanogan County in Washington. She keeps me updated with how crazy and scary these fires are. If we didn't have these brave firefighters risking their lives to stop these fires, hundreds of people would be dying.

    9/02/2015 - 09:37 p.m.

    Though Washington and New Zealand have contrasting cultures, they have similar geographic characteristics. For instance, both areas have many tall trees and steep terrain. The fire season in New Zealand is opposite that of the United States. Because of this, firefighters thousands of miles apart share related skill sets specific to their geographic location. These similarities (and differences) allow the two cultures to connect and help one another to solve the common problems that they face. Both countries have assisted each other in the past, and that relationship forms a link between the two cultures.

  • coled-fel
    9/14/2015 - 02:25 p.m.

    CTQ: Firefighters are coming from as far as New Zealand because California is in a massive drought, with the land as dry as it is, wildfires happen daily.

  • kolbyd-fel
    9/14/2015 - 02:26 p.m.

    They are coming from new zeland because this is the worst fire season since 2006.

  • elizabetht-fel
    9/14/2015 - 02:27 p.m.

    Firefighters from Australia and New Zealand are coming to America for two different reasons. One, their dry seasons occur at different times of the year. Two, they have a special deal with America that if they come help fight our fires during the dry season in North America, that we will help fight their fires as well. These are the two reasons why Australia and New Zealand are sending reinforcements.

  • kyleighp-fel
    9/14/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    Fires run rampant in Washington State,burning somewhere about 400 square miles and about 300 homes. The U.S has asked New Zealand and Australia for help in their desperate time of need to fight these rampaging fires that are harming life all around them.

  • mattv-fel
    9/14/2015 - 02:30 p.m.

    Well, Australia and New Zealand have Winter whilst our summer is happening, so they can come over and help us during this time, since they won't have to worry about it until their summer time, in which we can help since their summer takes place during our winter.

  • mimir-fel
    9/14/2015 - 02:31 p.m.

    Fires in the US are among the top countries for most acreage burnt. This years fires have destroyed over 500 homes and injured quite a few people. Hence to heavy burning land, volunteers are coming from New Zealand and Australia to help.

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