Australia — Jurien Bay based fire fighter Sam Hurd was one of the Western Australian bushfire specialists who have been helping to combat fires in northern California.
The contingent of eight returned recently after a month on the front line.
Department of Environment and Conservation director general Keiran McNamara said the crews had provided invaluable support to their United States counterparts in leadership roles such as divisional commander, task force leader, helicopter manager and field liaison officer.
The crews were assigned to a number of fire complexes in northern California where they worked two 14-day shifts with a two-day break in between, Mr McNamara said. So far this year, there have been 3,500 bushfires in northern California that have burnt through almost 350,000 hectares.
United States fire authorities sought assistance through the Forest Fire Management Group that comprises senior bushfire management personnel from land management and forest agencies.
The sheer number of large uncontrolled fires had stretched US fire management resources to the limit and the US fire fighters needed fireline leadership support from Australia and New Zealand agencies familiar with the US operational systems.
This is the fifth time since 2000 that ANZ fire managers have gone to the USA.
The WA contingent included DEC officers John Carter from Busselton (team leader); Sam Hurd of Jurien Bay; Jeremy Chick of Kirup; Greg Simpson and Carl Cicchini of Manjimjup; FESA Geraldton officer Steve McDonald and FPC officer Ben Sawyer from Harvey.
DECs Tammie Reid from Bunbury also went to the US to study how the US agencies managed community information and stakeholder relations.
There has been positive feedback from the Californian fire authorities on the performance of this contingent, which has provided much needed respite for the USA crews.
WA expertise in combating forest fires is internationally recognised, Mr McNamara said.
The deployment has further enhanced our relationship with the US as well as our international reputation.
Mr Hurd said the WA group had found their experience in the US highly rewarding.
I certainly learnt a lot and gained experience in fighting forest fires in steep, mountainous terrain which is particularly challenging, something we are just not used to in WA.
The fire season started very early in the US this year, mostly from lightning strikes in rough terrain in what is classed as wilderness areas where there are not many roads with a lot of redwood trees and Ponderosa pine.
Because the conditions are so rough and steep, up about 4-5,000 feet, the fire crews dont get the opportunity very often to use a dozer to clear breaks so they resort to direct attack on the fire front.
We were able to learn a lot about how the US set up their base camps which cater for about 2,000 crew and people management.
I would go again sometime in the future. It was an extremely worthwhile experience.