Department of the Interior Lends Support to Australia During Catastrophic Bushfires

Wildland firefighters from the United States help during the unprecedented bush fire season in Australia. (BLM/Dan Betts)


As Australia is experiencing catastrophic bushfires, 70 firefighters from the Department of the Interior are on the ground in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.  An additional 20 are standing by for deployment in the coming days.  Experienced personnel from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service, and National Park Service have been in Australia since late November 2019 filling critical roles and supporting Australian firefighters as they fight to protect their very homes.  They are Crew Bosses, Engine Bosses, Fire Behavior Analysts, Air Operations Branch Directors, Task Force Leaders, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.  Their roles are varied and their integration with their Australian counterparts is seamless.
Since early November 2019 thousands of bushfires have burned over 13 million acres in New South Wales and Victoria, an area almost equal to the size of West Virginia.  Australia’s summer is from December to February each year, and January is the peak of its typical fire season.  The fires are expected to persist for many more weeks, as will Australia’s need for support.  The need for our firefighters may continue through March unless weather conditions across the country change dramatically.  We will continue to stand with Australia.  We are in this together.
Australia has sent us their firefighters during periods of peak fire activity, most recently in 2018 when 150 personnel from Australia and New Zealand supported fire operations in Northern California.  International agreements between Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and the United States allow us to share fire resources in times of need.  The hosting country reimburses those that come to their aid.  This year, Australia needs our support and our brave firefighters have answered the call.  Without a second thought, some of them even missing Christmas with their families, our firefighters have put themselves in harm’s way to help our friends halfway around the world.  With conditions on the ground worsening and the bushfire season only half over, our support and our friendship is increasingly important.

Jeremy West is the Emergency Management Coordinator and International Partnerships Lead for the Office of Wildland Fire.  Jeremy is a forester with degrees from North Carolina State University and Yale University.  He has worked in forestry and environmental management extensively both domestically and abroad.