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. He is 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. Then they headed out to help a ground campaign led by firefighters from across the West and supplemented 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. They were 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. The fires have torn through the tinder-dry region.
The biggest fire as of Aug. 24 was in Washington's Okanogan County on the Canadian border. A group of five fires raging out of control became the largest in state history. The fires burned 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. Some 11,600 square miles have been burned 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. They summoned help from abroad and 200 U.S. troops from a base in Tacoma were 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, 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. The hope is that they can bulldoze fire lines to corral the blazes. That would 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

  • taylorn-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:36 a.m.

    Firefighters are coming from as far as New Zealand to help us battle our many fires and because they are partners with the U.S. Their fire season is also the at the opposite time as ours so they are happy to come and help us try to tame our wildfires. The U.S. appreciates this help because we have many tired firefighters who have battled these fires for a long time so far. In return, we send our firefighters over to New Zealand if they request our help.

  • miap-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:40 a.m.

    They are coming as far as New Zealand to fight these fires because they said they are used to tall timber and steep territory. Also the U.S. has been partners with the Southern Hemisphere for 50 years and don't mind helping. They also came because the U.S. is in one of their worst fire seasons and there are so many fires in Washington, also their fire seasons are opposite from each other so its not like while the New Zealand firefighters are helping out the while in their own country there is a fire as well.

  • fitzk-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:43 a.m.

    When there is a large out of control fire in the U.S. if there aren't enough personnel to control the fire, it can continue to spread and destroy. Luckily, New Zealand and the U.S. have opposite seasons when large out of control fires are more common, they are able to lend help to us and we can lend help to them.

  • isaiahg-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:44 a.m.

    Firefighters are coming from New Zealand to help fight fires because The Southern Hemisphere Nations have been friends with the US for more than 50 years, and they want to help America so when they need help America returns the favor. Australia and New Zealand are also able to send firefighters because The US and The Southern Hemisphere's fire seasons are at opposite times.

  • gracem-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:45 a.m.

    Firefighters are coming as far from New Zealand to fight these blazing fires because the fires are very bad in the U.S. It is the worst fire season on record and because of that we need a lot of help to stop the fires from spreading any farther.

  • teddyp-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:45 a.m.

    I think it is cool how many Firefighters are coming from different countries (New Zealand and Australia) to help out and make a difference. This is an act of courage and respect- to help put put the fires. Many people that help out will be loved and honored greatly, as it tough to put out extreme fires in over-the-top heat conditions. Many also have their lives on the line.

  • roberth1-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:47 a.m.

    Firefighters all around the world know what it is like to be fatigued. The firefighters from New Zealand knew it was tough for our firefighters, and they came to help and ready to assist.

  • tylers21-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:49 a.m.

    I can't believe that firefighters all the way from New Zealand and Australia. I think they should have brought people from Canada because it would probably have been cheaper and faster to get them over the border because they are so close

  • ians-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:52 a.m.

    Firefighters are coming from New Zealand to fight these fires because they are opposite seasons as us so they are happy to help use fight the fires that they fight on the opposite seasons so it is no problem for them to help us just like we help them.

  • sydneyw-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 11:11 a.m.

    They are coming to fight the fires because we don't have enough help and supplies as they do to fight the fire that Idaho has been having.

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