Secretary Salazar: Interior Deploys Firefighters to Assist Australia with Raging Wildland Fires



02/13/2009

Contact: Randy Eardley
National Interagency Coordination Center
(208) 387-5895

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior will immediately deploy 29 experienced wildland firefighters to Australia to help battle raging wildfires in Victoria State, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today. The Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service also is sending about 31 wildland firefighters as part of the United States assistance.

“Australia is experiencing an unprecedented wildfire season due to record high temperatures, drought, high wind and low humidity,” Secretary Salazar said. “We are dispatching this help in response to an official request under our mutual assistance agreement with Australia. They have helped us many times to battle wildfires in the West and we are eager to demonstrate our gratitude and assist them at this critical time.”

More than 180 lives have been lost due to the Australian wildfires, which have burned more than a million acres in the past week. Secretary Salazar also extends the Department’s condolences for the loss of life.

On February 11, the State Government of Victoria formally requested U.S. assistance, including two 13-member Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation teams; one suppression crew (20 people); three planning chiefs; four operations chiefs; three logistics chiefs; one public information officer; three liaison officers

The wildland firefighters Interior is sending include 18 from the Bureau of Land Management; five from the National Park Service; three from the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and three from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All are federal employees who will be deployed for up to 35 days. Departures are scheduled to begin today. Australia will reimburse the United States for all expenses, including salaries.

The United States and Australia signed a mutual assistance agreement in 2001. Similar command structures, training and physical requirements allow firefighters from one country to easily blend into the organization of another. Since the agreement was signed, Australia has sent firefighters and managers to the United States in 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2008. The United States sent firefighters and managers to Australia in 2003 and 2007.

The Department of the Interior’s Office of International Affairs staff has worked closely with the National Interagency Fire Center, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Australia and the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to assure all legal requirements have been met.

For more information, please contact Randy Eardley, at the National Interagency Coordination Center, (208) 387-5895.