U.S. wildfire fighters head to Australia

U.S. wildfire fighters head to Australia

13 February 2009

published by www.upi.com

USA/Australia — Sixty U.S. firefighters with experience battling western wildfires are being dispatched to Australia to help fight deadly fires, officials said Friday.

The Interior Department is supplying 29 firefighters and the U.S. Forest Service 31, Interior SecretaryKen Salazar said in a statement.

“Australia is experiencing an unprecedented wildfire season due to record high temperatures, drought, high wind and low humidity,” 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.”

The death toll in Victoria in southeastern Australia is expected to top 200 from brushfires that have wiped some towns off the map. Victorian officials requested assistance Feb. 11.

Since the two countries signed an agreement in 2001, Australia has sent firefighters to the United States on four occasions and received aid twice.

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