Australia, New Zealand firefighters to shore up NW crews

Resources stretched thin amid numerous blazes

PORTLAND, Ore. - Some overseas help is due soon as more then 8,000 firefighters and support personnel are battling wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.  As of Friday, there are 16 large wildfires in Oregon and six large wildfires in Washington, affecting over 185,000 acres.

Early next week, 85 firefighters and support personnel from Australia and New Zealand arrive in the Pacific Northwest to support suppression efforts, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.

Positions include division supervisors, safety officers, task force leaders, strike team leaders, heavy equipment bosses, helicopter managers, helicopter crew members, structure protection specialists and liaison officers.

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.

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. 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, officials said.

In addition to the Australia and New Zealand support, two Canadian Convair 580 air tankers 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.   

Members of the Oregon and Washington National Guard and Air National Guard have joined the fire suppression and support effort in their respective states. More than 290 Oregon National Guard personnel are currently deployed to the Garner Complex and other incidents, and this number could climb to nearly 600 personnel this Friday. Washington National Guard has 125 personnel assigned to fires.

“The NW is grateful to all our firefighters and support personnel, including those from Oregon and Washington National Guard units, as well as the firefighters from across the United States and those coming from overseas to help us out, said Dan O’Brien, Northwest Coordination Center manager. “This interagency and international cooperation reflects the very best of the firefighting community. When communities are in need, so many firefighters answer the call.”

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.

Fire managers remind the public to “know before you go” what fire restrictions may be in place in the area you visiting. Many local units have campfire bans or restrictions in place. If campfires are allowed, make sure campfires are “dead out” and cold to the touch before leaving.

“Our firefighters are very busy responding to lightning-caused wildfires,” O’Brien said. “Please help us out by being safe and responsible with fire so we don’t add unnecessary human-caused wildfires to the mix.”

So far this summer, there have been 414 human-caused wildfires in Oregon and 873 human-caused wildfires in Washington.

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