Up to 55 of Australia’s top bushfire firefighting specialists could be heading to the US to help battle the huge fires ravaging California.
The state’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, has requested assistance from both Australia and Canada as authorities there struggle to bring the blazes under control. Both countries have extensive experience in fighting wildfires.
More than one million acres destroyed
Upwards of a million acres of land has been burned and more than 1 200 building have been destroyed in the California blazes. A number of lives have also been lost.
According to ABC News, California wants 55 specialised firefighters to fill mainly leadership roles for up to a month.
They include operational commanders to supervise teams on the ground, as well as heavy plant supervisors to work with crews that clear land to make fire breaks. There has also been a request for a small group of specialised aircraft managers.
Ongoing cooperation between the countries
Speaking to the ABC’s AM program, Stuart Ellis, CEO of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, said co-operation with US firefighters was common and had been ongoing for the past 20 years.
This year, though, the coronavirus pandemic will complicate matters, with California being one of the hardest-hit parts of the United States.
Ellis said specialist measures to protect Aussie firefighters from the virus would include individual meals being provided, rather than people eating together in mess tents, for example.
Adjustments to limit exposure to the virus
“There will be daily temperature checks and transportation is being adjusted, so there are a reduced number of people in vehicles to ensure social distancing,” he told AM.
Anyone going to the US will need to pass strict health tests and all returning firefighters will need to quarantine once they land back in Australia.
“That needs to be factored into each (fire) commissioner’s consideration of their people’s availability,” he said.
“Not only will they be absent for the period they are in the United States, but they will also need to spend two weeks in quarantine on return to Australia.”
State is getting help, but needs more
California is currently receiving help from many other US states. But the Governor recently said this still more assistance is needed.
In some instances, firefighters are said to be working 72-hour shifts as they battle to save lives and property.
“We have more people but it’s not enough. We have more air support but it’s still not enough and that’s why we need support from our federal partners,” he said.