US welcomes Kiwi firefighters

  • 22/08/2015
Firefighters (File)
Firefighters (File)

US authorities are welcoming the deployment of firefighters from New Zealand and Australia to help fight wildfires burning through several states.

Fifteen New Zealand firefighters leave from Auckland Airport tomorrow evening. On arrival in Los Angeles they will transfer to the National Interagency Fire Centre (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, for a briefing and onward deployment to either Washington, Montana, California or Oregon.

The New Zealand team will be joined by 60 Australian firefighters.

Australia and New Zealand have been key partners with the US fire community for more than 50 years but were last mobilised in 2008 when severe fire activity was similar to this year, NIFC says.

The New Zealand team members are drawn from rural fire authorities around the country, national rural fire officer Kevin O'Connor says.

Mr O'Connor says uncontained fires in Oregon and Washington states have been burning more than 200,000 hectares in the past few days, while fires in California have burned nearly 50,000 hectares this year.

High temperatures, dry conditions and lightning strikes were hampering efforts by thousands of local firefighters and army volunteers.

The New Zealand firefighters are likely to be working in rugged, mountainous terrain, in very high temperatures.

He said the two-week assignment could be extended by another two weeks depending on the success in containing the fires.

The National Multi-Agency Co-ordinating Group (NMAC) requested the deployment of the New Zealand and Australian fire managers and specialists.

"We are very appreciative of the Australian and New Zealand firefighters for their availability to assist us with our current fire situation," said Aitor Bidaburu, chair of NMAC.

He says US resources are fully committed and there are no fire-season-ending weather events in the foreseeable forecast.

"Because of the current level of commitment and forecast, having fire management expertise from Australian and New Zealand firefighters will be of tremendous help as we continue suppressing ongoing fires," he said.

A previous team of New Zealand rural firefighters returned from a month-long deployment to Canada little more than a week ago.