Boise, Idaho August 1, 2018 – Wildland fire managers at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho are mobilizing firefighters from Australia and New Zealand to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in the western United States. Australia and New Zealand have been key partners with the U.S. fire community for more than 50 years and were last mobilized in 2015 when severe fire activity was similar to this year.
The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC) comprised of top fire managers representing the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Association of State Foresters, requested approximately 150 fire managers and specialists. Although final details of the arrangement are being worked out, the contingent from Australia and New Zealand is expected to begin arriving in Boise, Idaho late this week where they will have a one-day orientation before being assigned to assist at yet-to-be determined large fires in the West.
“We are very appreciative of the Australian and New Zealand firefighters for their availability to assist us with our current fire situation,” said Dan Smith, Chair of NMAC. “We currently remain at National Preparedness Level 5, our resources are fully committed and there are no season-ending weather events in the foreseeable forecast. Because of the current level of commitment and forecast, having fire management expertise from Australian and New Zealand with specialized experienced firefighters will be of tremendous help as we continue suppressing ongoing fires.”
The request includes Division Supervisors, Safety Officers, Task Force Leaders, Strike Team Leaders, Heavy Equipment Bosses, Helicopter Managers, Helicopter Crew Members, Structure Protection Specialists and Liaison Officers. Assistance from Australia and New Zealand is a good fit primarily because their fire organizations are very similar to the United States national fire organization in training requirements and structure. These wildland fire management positions have been identified as “unable to fill” through the U.S. dispatch/coordination system on a daily basis in recent weeks.
Large fires are continuing throughout the West, particularly in the Northwest, Northern Rockies, Northern California, Southern California and Great Basin Areas. Approximately 140 uncontained wildfires are currently burning on more than 1.4 million acres in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Utah, Alaska and Arizona.
The National Preparedness Level remains at 5, the highest level, indicating a high level of wildfire activity and a high level of commitment of available wildfire suppression assets, such as firefighters, aircraft, and engines. Weather and fuel conditions are predicted to continue to be conducive to wildfire ignitions and spread for the next few weeks.
In 2015, the last time Australia and New Zealand firefighters assisted the U.S. with wildfire suppression, 68 fire managers and specialist spent 30 days in Oregon and Washington. The time before that was during the 2008 fire season when 45 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand came to the U.S. to assist with efforts for 37 days in California. Prior to that, they have also assisted during the 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006 fire seasons. U.S. firefighters traveled to Australia to assist with their fire seasons in 2010, 2009, 2007 and in 2003.
In addition to the Australia and New Zealand support, two Canadian Convair 580 airtankers and a lead plane from Saskatchewan are currently assigned to support large fires in the Pacific Northwest. Canada and the United States have a long history of mutual support for fire operations, however at this time Canada has a high level of fire activity to which most of their resources are currently committed.