California firefighters heading to Australia to assist with deadly blazes


ARCADIA, Calif. (CNN Newsource) — Twenty California firefighters who battled the Saddle Ridge Fire are leaving for Australia on Monday.

The hand-picked members of the U.S Forest Service and Angeles National Forest fire teams are glad to return the favor.

Many of the crews heading over to Australia were assisted by Australian firefighters in the past.

They have been hardened by years of battling large wildfires, some of them deadly. You may recall the Station Fire, the Saddle Ridge fire last October.

Both firefighters in Australia and California have faced down the same menace, large eucalyptus trees.

“The eucalyptus from what I understand are quite a bit different than what we have here,” said Jonathan Merager, with the Angeles National Forest. “Broader leaves and the cast in is quite a bit further than ours here and it just creates a more extreme environment.”

“The wind will carry (embers) at a much significant distance” he said. “There’s a great amount of oils in the eucalyptus and when it catches, it goes up like a torch. It goes up extreme and uh, torches.”

And the firefighters here in the Angeles forest tell CNN the Australians asked for experts who can fell extremely large trees, cut those big trees down.

They also tell CNN that much of the equipment will be provided by the Australians and this unit is made up of such experienced firefighters, that all of them have been a crew boss of sorts at some point in their careers.

“These folks we are sending have been full-time firefighters here locally and they work on engine crews, hotshot crews, aviation, helicopter deployed crews, so they are used to this diversity of mission, traveling in small squads, initially tackling fires early before they become large fires,” said Robert Garcia, with the Angeles National Forest.

“It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reciprocate to our Australian brothers and sisters the same assistance they’ve given us,” Merager said. “For many years, they’ve come over and helped us.”

Across Australia, 23 people have been killed and about 23,000 square miles of bushland have burned out.

Unless there is a change in the weather and heavy rain, the fire danger is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

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