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Firefighters from Montana deploy to help fight wildfires in Australia

Posted at 4:00 PM, Jan 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-06 23:20:23-05

MISSOULA — Nine Montana wildfire personnel are among 44 around the United States that departed on December 30 to help fight the massive Australian wildfires.

Among those nine are firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Another 20 from around the country were deployed on Saturday and 59 more are set to go within the next 24 hours.

The people were sent based on requests from the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council.

Since December 5, the United States has deployed nearly 94 U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Interior wildland firefighters to Australia, which has been ravaged by intense wildfire activity over the last several weeks.

National Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao says the Montanans firefighting skills match up well with what they need.

“We have an arrangement or agreement with Australia for exchanging firefighters when needed. They have experienced firefighters for brush or bush fires, and we have wildland fires,” Bilbao explained. “A lot of our qualifications can integrate pretty easily with their firefighting techniques.”

The wildfires sparked in September, and have so far burned more than 12 million acres of land, destroyed more than 1,500 homes and killed at least 20 people.

The NIFC said in a news release last week that the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand have been exchanging fire assistance for more than 15 years. The most recent exchange occurred in August of 2018, when 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel were sent to the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California and the Northwest. The Australian and New Zealand personnel filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, heavy equipment, helicopter operations, and structure protection. The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.