American fire crews arrive

American fire crews arrive

Victorian fire crews are being supported in the fire zone by American and Canadian firefighters.

A group of 39 US and Canadian firefighters are already in East Gippsland and an additional crew of 48 Americans, including 20 highly experienced veteran personnel, arrived in Victoria last Thursday before hitting the fire zone on Saturday.

The men are specialists in rugged bushfire terrain and are attuned to fighting in such conditions.

The California wildfires have many similarities to Australian bushfires given they share similar landscapes.

Kris Bruington is a fire operations specialist from the mountainous northwestern state of Idaho and is well versed in supporting large campaign fires in remote and rugged woods.

He says big wind events and fuel loads in East Gippsland are remarkably like those in southern California.

Mr Bruington says last week milder weather and rain had moderated conditions in the fire zone allowing crews to get closer to the fire edge.

“We’ve been working on securing the perimeter and blacking the edges over the past two days,” he said.

Mr Bruington said he enjoyed working with the Australian fire crews and sharing fire knowledge.

“There are so many similarities but we do things a little bit differently and it’s great to be able to share those skills.

John Szulc, is from Oregon, and fought his first fire in 1984. Skilled as a forester, he has an innate understanding of bushland and how fuel loads contribute to the intensity of blazes. It’s Mr Szulc’s second trip to Australia, having fought fires in the Gippsland area in 2010, so he’s familiar with the environment.

“I feel like I can be of service with my past knowledge and its great to contribute to something larger than myself,” Mr Szulc said.

He says being chosen from a large field of American firefighters who nominated to come to Australia was akin to “representing the US in football”.

“We want to be part of that when the bell rings,” he said.

Mr Szulc says the moisture from the recent rains had enabled crews to fall trees and mitigate some overhead hazards.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Mr Szulc said he was yet to see a spike day.

Both men pleaded with the public to heed the warnings when fire authorities called on people to evacuate.

IMAGE: American firefighters, Kris Bruington and John Szulc, at the Swan Reach emergency services base camp last week. K19-3755