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Oregon and California Firefighters Deploy To Australia Wildfires

Image of Australia continent emitting smoke.
NASA satellite imagery from January 4, 2020 showing smoke and fire locations in eastern Australia.

Wildland firefighters from Western states including both Oregon and California have been deployed to help with the fires burning across Australia.

So far, 15 firefighters from Oregon and 39 from California have been deployed. Right now they only include federal employees, not state firefighters.

That includes staff from agencies at the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Parks Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

An additional 59 firefighters from Los Angeles left for Australia on Monday.

“These folks that are going in now actually are more like division supervisors. They will be working with the folks on the ground,” says Carrie Bilbao, a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center. “We also have engine bosses and crew members that are going over just strictly help with the firefighting.”

Bilboa says the American firefighters are on 30-day rotations. Her agency is expecting another request for firefighters to travel to Australia in the next two weeks.

“They’re in their summer season now so we have an availability of firefighters that can go help them out,” Bilbao says.

The newest deployments are replacing the first group that went overseas in early December. The American crews are currently based in the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Australian firefighters last came to help in Northern California and the Northwest during the 2018 fire season.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.