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Science & Environment

Sharing Resources Across Countries To Fight Wildfires


It's fire season in the West. Thousands of people in California and British Columbia have had to evacuate their homes. Wildfire season puts a huge strain on local firefighting resources. And to help, this week, Australia sent 48 of its own firefighter specialists to help battle the blaze in British Columbia. Alan Goodwin is the manager of international programs at the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council. It's the Australian organization that coordinates international resources for fighting wildfires. He joins us on the line from Melbourne. Mr. Goodwin, thanks for being with us.

ALAN GOODWIN: Yes, good morning.

SIMON: We should explain it's winter there in Australia, right? So it's kind of the off season for firefighting personnel.

GOODWIN: It is certainly for Southern Australia, where we have the bulk of our large wildland fires that affect our communities. It's winter. So yeah, no fire load. And our people are - in terms of bushfires and wildfires, it's very quiet at this time of year.

SIMON: Have you heard from your team in British Columbia how things are going there?

GOODWIN: I have. I have. They're getting getting orientation just outside of Vancouver. And then they'll be dispersed or deployed out to many different fires depending on the job that they're doing. So they're quite excited. And they're getting ready to go to work.

SIMON: And I gather these are specialists, not just regular line firefighters.

GOODWIN: Yeah, that's correct. We send - they usually run out of incident management team people, so the teams of planning officers and operation officers and incident managers who actually organize and manage the battle against the fire but also aviation specialists and fire-behavior-type specialists. So they are the type of people that they need and run out of when they've got, you know, the fire activity that they see this summer.

SIMON: Are the Australian, American and Canadian approaches to firefighting sufficiently similar that you can swap personnel like that?

GOODWIN: Well, they certainly are. And we've been swapping personnel particularly with United States since the year 2000. So we've done quite a few deployments from Australia to the U.S. and Canada. And we've also had Canadian and U.S. folks come across to Southern Australia and help us.

SIMON: Have fire seasons gotten worse?

GOODWIN: Certainly since the late '90s, we've seen a lot of intense fire activity in Australia - in Southern Australia. Large fires, certainly fires on the edge of what was the traditional season. So the hot part of summer now we're seeing larger fires earlier and later. And I think that's replicated in North America. I think that's why we've been over there helping large fires that burned for many, many days and over a lot of area. So that's certainly a trend in the last 20 years or so.

SIMON: Yeah. What did you tell your team before they went off to British Columbia?

GOODWIN: I went and briefed the team. We had them all together. And I told them they should be congratulated on being chosen to go overseas for a deployment, that they should enjoy it and do their best. They are going to work. It's not a holiday. And I told them to be careful, most of all it's to be safe. Doesn't matter whether it's firefighter in America, Canada or Australia, the most important thing about going to a fire is going home. So they go do their best work, be, you know, flexible as they can but be safe.

SIMON: Alan Goodwin, who's manager of the international programs for the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council. Thanks so much for being with us. Good luck to you and your personnel.

GOODWIN: OK. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.