More than 70 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand arrived in Boise Sunday to help fight wildfires burning throughout the Northwest. They are currently at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise for training and will deploy later this week. Area fire managers requested their help last week, following a rash of large fires that have stretched American resources very thin.
Australia and the U.S. have a lot in common when it comes to fire. Every summer, fires burn thousands of acres. Both countries have state and national agencies that coordinate to fight fires. Their organizational systems and fire terminology are intentionally similar to make working together easier, and the two countries often send each other firefighters. But John Costeniro - who is in Idaho from Australia’s Victoria State - says there are differences on the ground. He says Australia has mountains, but compared to Idaho its terrain is flat. Where he comes from, it's much dryer.
“We don’t have water like you guys have out in the forest, so it’s mainly dry firefighting,” Costeniro says. “So rake hoe trails or lines around, that sort of stuff. We don’t have lakes or many water sources like you guys seem to have in our remote areas.”
Costeniro says he got on a plane to Idaho with 24 hours’ notice. This is his first time outside his country but he worked with American firefighters who helped fight Australia’s devastating Black Saturday fires in 2009.
“And I’ve developed friendships and we still keep in touch all the time,” Costeniro says. “And so I’m actually meeting up with one of the guys that I worked with six years ago.”
The 50 plus Australians and 15 New Zealanders are mostly front line managers - people who coordinate operations from the field, rather than pilots or ground crew members. There is currently a shortage of these skilled mid-level managers on fires in the Northwest.
More than 1.6 million acres are burning in the U.S. with more than a million of them in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The Australians and New Zealanders will join thousands of American firefighters as well as National Guard and active duty members of the military who are already working on these fires.
Australia also saw some big fires this year that stretched that country’s resources. But those occurred mainly in January and February. Simon Martin, with the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Western Australia, says there was no problem taking firefighters out of the country now.
“It’s our winter at the moment, so in the more populated areas in the south fire season, well it’s suppressed at the moment,” Martin says. “In my patch in particular in southwest Western Australia, it’s very wet and everyone’s just gearing up for the burning season coming up where we do a lot of prescribed burning ahead of the bush fire season.”
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