Western wildfires: US firefighters call on Australia, New Zealand for relief

Nearly 29,000 firefighters are currently battling some 100 large blazes across the American West. 

Max Whittaker/Reuters
Smoke plumes rise from the so-called 'Rough Fire' in the Sierra National Forest, Calif, Thursday. US fire officials have called on colleagues in Australia and New Zealand to assist in battling the spate of wildfires scorching the American West.

With wildfires ravaging the western United States and overwhelming firefighters, fire officials are calling on colleagues from the other side of the globe for relief.

On Thursday, officials from The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, announced that they have enlisted the help of 70 fire managers and specialists from Australia and New Zealand to battle the unrelenting blazes. The international recruits are expected to arrive in Idaho on Sunday.

“We currently remain at National Preparedness Level 5, our resources are fully committed and there are no season-ending weather events in the foreseeable forecast,” National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group chair Aitor Bidaburu said in a statement. “Because of the current level of commitment and forecast, having fire management expertise from Australia and New Zealand firefighters will be of tremendous help as we continue suppressing ongoing fires.”

The exceptional drought affecting large swathes of the country's western states has helped fuel an intense spate of wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. Almost 29,000 firefighters are battling some 100 large blazes across the West, and the firefighting efforts have cut into state and federal budgets.

“The fires, and the resources pouring into them, are renewing attention on government funding to fighting and preventing wildfires – an issue that has seen heated debate in the last few years amid federal budget cuts and rising costs,” The Christian Science Monitor reported in early August.

“Last year, the government spent $1.5 billion to fight more than 63,000 wildfires across the country, The Colorado Statesman reports. The United States Forest Service, which works under the authority of the Department of Agriculture, is better equipped to deal with fires this year than previously – the service hired nearly 800 new firefighters for California alone.”

Despite the additional resources, US firefighters have been stretched thin, often moving to a new blaze immediately after extinguishing another.

The United States has a long-standing history of cooperation with both Australia and New Zealand. The United States sent 67 of its firefighters to Australia in 2007 and 73 in 2009, The Washington Post reported.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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