Twenty veteran California firefighters head to Australia on Monday as the first U.S. ground crew to help battle out-of-control bushfires that have killed at least 23 people.
The Los Angeles National Forest crew will deploy to help their exhausted counterparts Down Under.
The U.S. sent dozens of managers to Australia in December, as Breitbart News reported. This new team however is thought to be the first that puts shovels in the ground to dig fire breaks, starts back fires with drip torch cans, and hikes through deserted bushland with local firefighters.
They will arrive as the runaway bushfires continue to convulse the country, leaving an area roughly double the size of Belgium burnt.
Carrie Bilbao, a spokeswoman with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which is mobilizing U.S. resources in response to Australia’s requests for international firefighting aide, confirmed the crew’s departure.
Federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management already have provided a few dozen people, most of them with experience managing fires, Bilbao said Saturday.
Monday’s team includes hot-shot and helicopter crew members with experience attacking fires early before they grow into large infernos, said Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia.
They will join an expanded list of civil and now military assets sent to fight the fires as announced by Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison:
We’re putting more Defence Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible #bushfires pic.twitter.com/UiOeYB2jnv
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 4, 2020
Australia and New Zealand have been sending firefighters to the United States for more than 15 years, most recently in August 2018, when 138 came to help battle fires in Northern California and the Northwest, Bilbao said.
The Angeles Forest crew deployment is expected to last 30 to 45 days.