More than 100 American firefighters are now helping battle the bushfires in Australia. The massive blazes have burned about 16 times the amount of land destroyed during California’s worst fire season in 2018. The veteran firefighters, who spent years fighting wildfires across the West, have had to shift tactics because of the sheer scale of the fires.
Nearly 28 million acres have burned across Australia, covering an area almost the size of Louisiana.
Fire Management Specialist Jason Loomis told CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas he was “excited and pretty anxious” to be part of the U.S. effort, noting that he expected the “explosive conditions.”
Bushfires in Australia are not an uncommon or often a deadly occurrence — bushfire season is dealt with regularly across the country. However, this year the thick brush, hotter than normal temperatures and low humidity combined with devastating effects.
Colorado firefighter Jay Karle expressed his disbelief while sharing what kind of toll the mission has taken on him and his family. Karle is in Australia helping coordinate air operations, leaving behind a 7-month-old son at home.
“I do miss them a lot and, you know, thinking about having four more weeks, three and a half more weeks over here, it gets challenging,” he said, adding that he uses FaceTime to keep in contact with his family.
Still, communication is difficult with the 18-hour time difference. “The windows are very narrow so sometimes you’re just hoping you can get two minutes in to say goodnight to the kids and you know, goodnight to your loved ones,” he said.
This is not the first time the U.S. and Australia have teamed up — Australians have deployed to the U.S. to battle American wildfires in the past, and the two countries’ camaraderie did not go uncelebrated. American firefighters were welcomed with cheers upon arrival in Sydney last week, as Fire Management Officer Bart Kicklighter experienced.
Kicklighter said the warm reception “felt really good,” as did being able to “return the favor and fight fire over here.” He said the mutual respect between the nations’ firefighting teams was palpable.
Australian firefighter Mark Williams shared the sentiment. “They’ve been experts in their field,” he praised, jokingly bringing up the burden of dealing with multiple accents. “Apart from that, firefighting is firefighting,” he said.
American firefighting crews are set to stay in Australia for 30 days, but while better weather conditions are predicted in the coming week, the bushfire season is only starting. As a result, it is not immediately clear whether more Americans will be asked to help in the coming weeks.
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