Montana Public Radio

Montana Firefighters Sent To Help With Australia Fire Crisis

Jan 8, 2020
Originally published on January 8, 2020 5:21 pm

 

A handful of Montana wildland firefighters are helping fight the historic bushfires in Australia, which have burned over 12 million acres, destroyed over 2,000 homes and killed at least 24 people. 

Out of the 159 wildfire and aviation management personnel sent to Australia from the U.S. last month, nine came from Montana.

Dan Hottle with the Northern Region of the U.S. Forest Service says an international agreement allows for mutual aid.

"So in 2010 was the last time we actually have sent U.S. firefighter to Australia. But we had firefighters from New Zealand helping out with U.S. fires in 2018," Hottle said. 

As part of the agreement, the Australian government will reimburse the U.S. for the cost of travel, wages and other expenses.

Hottle says the exchange of firefighters isn't the only benefit of the agreement.

"They might be fighting fires similar to the kind of fires we have, fast moving brush fires, then we can definitely see some benefit when we trade knowledge and trade resources," Hottle said.

Al Nash with the Bureau of Land Management says Montana firefighters often work outside the state, but it’s unusual for them to be sent outside the country.

"In 2019, from Montana and the Dakotas, we sent out staff to 17 other states. So for our personnel to be away from home on assignment is a pretty common thing," Nash said. 

During Montana’s fire season, firefighters generally stay in the state. But in the off-season, Nash says they try to make themselves available to those in need elsewhere.

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