Firefighter headed to Australia jumps at the opportunity to help

“I am in a unique position where I actually can do something and I actually can help.”

Justine Gude
Justine Gude is interviewed before boarding a flight to help with the bushfires in Australia, January 7, 2020. Screenshot from the ABC7 video below.

As 20 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service were about to depart from Los Angeles for a flight to Australia to assist with the bushfires, reporters found Justine Gude who was willing to speak on camera about the assignment. She gave an excellent interview.

Ms. Gude said, in explaining why she volunteered for the overseas trip:

You watch the news or you read these stories of these terrible things that are happening and you always want to know, ‘How can I help, what can I do?’ And I am in a unique position where I actually can do something and I actually can help. So, who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity. I’m super excited.

Two weeks later in Australia, Carolyn Cole, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, found her. Again she was very quotable:

You know they say ‘It takes a village’. Well it takes all types to have a successful hand crew. You need the funny guy, you need the smart guy, you need the strong guy.

The reporter asked, “What is your role”?

Me? I’m the strong guy!

Then she doubled over laughing

Here is the first interview in Los Angeles, January 7, 2020, by ABC7:

And two weeks later, in Australia, by the LA Times:

Two more 20-person hand crews are traveling to Australia today, January 22. They are a combination of Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service firefighters from throughout the United States. The U.S. has already deployed more than 200 USFS and DOI wildland fire staff to the Australian Bushfire response.

“Recent rains have been a welcome relief to fire crews and communities across Australia, but have not extinguished the risk, “said Stuart Ellis, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) CEO. “We are grateful for the arrival of US fire task force personnel this week. Australia is a large country, and while we have seen generous rain fall in the past few days in some areas, we are still experiencing kilometers of active fire front and a large clean-up ahead of us. We’re halfway through the summer and there are still challenges ahead for us this season.”

U.S. Forest Service Fire Director Shawna Legarza recently returned from Australia in support of the bushfire response.  “The large, landscape-scale devastation is unprecedented in terms of its impact on Australian economy, its people and their communities, and the effect to numerous ecosystems and habitats. It was humbling to observe the Australians’ resilience, the response in Australia, and level of support from our agency. We will continue to learn from each other in this complex fire environment.”

Based on requests from AFAC, USFS and DOI, the National Interagency Fire Center said wildland fire personnel will continue to provide assistance as requested through the existing agreement. The U.S. firefighters are filling critical wildfire and aviation management roles in New South Wales and Victoria.

Incident Management Team in Australia
A United States Incident Management Team in Australia, January 17, 2020. Photo by Traci Weaver for the US Forest Service.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Firefighters in Victoria — photos

Images from the front lines of Australia’s bushfires

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, @DELWP_Vic

Until two to three weeks ago most of the bushfire activity in Australia was concentrated in New South Wales, but in January firefighters further south in Victoria became increasingly busy.

Most of these photos (except as noted) were posted on the Twitter account of Chris Hardman, the Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria.

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
military bushfires helicopter rappell
Posted by Defence Australia, @DeptDefence, December, 2019. (It is not clear in which state this photo was taken, New South Wales or Victoria)

One thing to keep in mind is that when wildland firefighters are actively working to contain a fire they usually do not have time to pull out a camera or smart phone and take pictures. So most of what you see from the front lines are from when they are taking a well-deserved break.

About the next three photos, Chief Hardman wrote:

Driving greater female participation in fire fighting and fire mgt, has paid off, our women are Sector Commanders, Div Coms, Crew Leaders, General FIre Fighters, Dozer Operators, Fallers, IMTs and Air Ops. They are an inspiration to others.

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. pose with Victorian firefighters. Posted on Twitter by Robert Garcia, Fire Chief for the Angeles National Forest, @firechiefanf
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. working in Victoria. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. pose with Victorian firefighters. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters attend a procession to honor their fallen comrade Mat Kavanagh, 43, who died on duty January 3 in a two vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway in Victoria. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, @DELWP_Vic

Residents suffer through smoky air in Victoria, Australia

On Wednesday some Air Quality Index readings were in the Very Unhealthy category or worse

Air quality in Victoria, Australia
Air quality in Victoria, Australia January 15, 2020. Air-Quality.com

Smoke from bushfires in Victoria, Australia has degraded the air quality to levels that are dangerous in some areas.

If the Air Quality Index used by Air-Quality.com for the map above is the same used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality in the east corner of Victoria near Mallacoota is off the scale, beyond “hazardous”, with an air quality index of 769 at one location.

Mallacoota is the community that had to be evacuated by Navy ships after fires trapped over 4,000 residents and holiday makers.

In the Melbourne area (the cluster of AQI readings in the lower-left corner) the map shows some levels above 200 which is the beginning of the Very Unhealthy for Everyone category; 300 to 500 is Hazardous, and over 500 must be a ridiculous category that the US EPA assumed would never occur. (see the chart below)

Air Quality Index
Air Quality Index, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

From NPR, January 14, 2020:

Smoke from massive wildfires in Australia hangs like a blanket over the city of Melbourne. The smog there is so thick that some of the world’s top athletes have raised alarms about player safety at the Australian Open tennis tournament, slated to kick off next week.

The air quality in Melbourne on Wednesday was forecast to be “very poor to hazardous,” according to the Environment Protection Authority in Victoria state.

The hazardous breathing conditions prompted Australian Open officials to suspend practice sessions Tuesday. But qualifying matches went on as scheduled, and one of the players later said it was “not fair” that they were asked to compete.

That player, Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, was leading 6-4, 5-6 in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she was overtaken by a fit of coughing and dropped to her knees. Her breathing difficulties forced her to forfeit, handing the victory to Voegele.

Smoke from the bushfires in Australia has traveled completely around the Earth and will be over the continent again in the coming days. But it may not be visible to the naked eye.

Rain could slow the fires in Australia

Areas of Victoria and New South Wales could receive zero to over two inches of precipitation this week

Precipitation over Victoria and New South Wales
Precipitation detected by radar over Victoria and New South Wales at 4:35 p.m. PST January 15, 2020. Fires are indicated by the flame icons.

Predicted rain and cooler temperatures this week in Australia could slow the spread of the bushfires in Victoria and New South Wales. The heaviest rain will be on the east coast where some areas could receive over two inches while the forecast on the west side of the two states is for much less or perhaps none.

The rain is the product of a deep inland trough drawing humid air into the system.

Small amounts of rain will not put out the fires, but could make them partially dormant for a period of days, giving firefighters time to regroup and construct firelines on portions of the perimeters. But many of the fires are far too large to ever be completely encircled by firelines.

Some of the rain will come in the form of thunderstorms, leading to the possibility of flash flooding, landslides, and fallen trees.

The rain will be welcomed by residents and especially farmers in the drought-stricken communities.

predicted rain australia january 15 2020
Precipitation (in inches) predicted for Australia, January 14 through 19, 2020.

Firefighter killed on bushfire in Victoria, Australia

Near Omeo January 11

bushfire victoria december 30 2019
A fire in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, December 30, 2019. Photo by Ned Dawson for Victoria State Government.

UPDATED at 6:43 p.m. PST January 11, 2020.

The bushfires in Australia have claimed the life of a fifth firefighter. It occurred Saturday January 11 while a firefighter was working on a fire in the Omeo area of Victoria, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp has confirmed.

Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said, “Bill Slade was working as a member of a task force at the Anglers Rest area and he was struck by a tree.”

“Family and fellow emergency personnel are being informed and will be supported,” he said. “The safety and wellbeing of our people is our highest priority. The matter will be investigated by Victoria Police who will prepare a report for the Coroner.”

Mr. Slade, 60, had worked for 40 years as a firefighter with Parks Victoria. He is survived by his wife Carol, daughter Steph and son Ethan.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers.

Other recent firefighter fatalities in Australia:

January 3, 2020: Victoria Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh, 43, died on duty in a two vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway, in Victoria. His colleague was injured.

December 30, 2019: New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul died when a fire tornado or column collapse flipped his fire engine in New South Wales. Two other firefighters were also injured.

December 19, 2019: Andrew O’Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton were killed while working on the Green Wattle Creek Bushfire when their truck hit a tree near Buxton in southwestern Sydney, New South Wales. They were both volunteer firefighters for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

At least 27 people have died in the Australia bushfires during the 2019/2020 bushfire season.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Arizona firefighters are staffing engines and hand crews in Australia

BLM Arizona Koreena Haynes
BLM Arizona’s Koreena Haynes (1st on left) is assisting in Australia as an Engine Boss. BLM photo.

PHOENIX – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as well as other Department of the Interior agencies and the U.S. Forest Service have been sending wildfire personnel from across the United States to assist with ongoing wildfire suppression efforts in Australia. The BLM in Arizona currently has four fire personnel in Australia with plans to send more in the coming weeks.

Brady Shultz, from BLM Arizona’s Colorado River District in Kingman, and Koreena Haynes from the BLM Arizona State Office in Phoenix, deployed just after the new year to assist on fire engines in the Australian state of Victoria. Cody Goff from BLM Arizona’s Arizona Strip District in St. George, Utah, and John Garrett from BLM Arizona’s Gila District in Safford deployed on January 7 as part of a 20-person firefighter hand crew.

“Australia has come to help us when we needed an extra hand during our most extreme fire seasons, now it’s our turn to go help them in their time of need,” said Kelly Castillo, BLM Arizona’s state fire management officer.

Based on requests from the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the U.S. has intermittently deployed more than 150 wildland fire personnel since December.

The fire personnel from the U.S. have assisting with critical needs for mid-level fire management roles including fire engine operations, aviation operations, fire operations managers, logistical management specialists, and strategic fire planners. More recent deployments have included requests for 20-person firefighting crews and chain saw operators.

“We are in the process of filling more requests for Arizona personnel, which will likely deploy as soon as next week,” said Castillo.

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 last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.

BLM Arizona Brady Shultz
BLM Arizona’s Brady Shultz (1st on left) is assisting in Australia as an Engine Boss. BLM photo.

From the Bureau of Land Management, Arizona State Office