SoCal Firefighters bring experience to Australia


Photo contributed by Nathan Judy

Assisting in Australia: Angeles National Forest Service firefighters were recruited to help fight wildfire in Australia.

Jasmine Perez, Reporter

Southern California firefighters sent to help extinguish the Australian wildfires have returned home. 

The fires which started in September have been destroying land, homes and even the animals native to Australia. Around 200 Southern California firefighters were sent to Australia to fight these wildfires, and among them were 20 firefighters from Angeles National Forest, Nathan Judy, public information officer at Angeles National Forest Service said.

“[We are] really happy that we were there to help and assist them the way we can,” firefighter Victor Almanza said. 

 Almanza, who has been working as a firefighter for 14 years, was sent out to Australia to help extinguish the fires. He was there for almost a month, returning the first week of February. When they got to Australia, they were welcomed with open arms, Almanza said. 

Firefighters worked from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. in attempt to extinguish the flames.

“The eucalyptus are really fragile trees and they didn’t want us working at night, just cause they didn’t want any trees falling down,” Almanza said.

Kurt Yearout has been a firefighter for 21 years, and works for the Angeles National Forest Service. Yearout volunteered to go fight the fires in Australia.

“Once we arrived at the airport, we got our luggage and went to go outside and there was a huge gathering of the media, lots of cameras. Our Fire Director was there and the Australian Minister of Natural Resources. They welcomed us, a lot of Australians clapping and cheering for us,” Yearout said. 

Yearout also said when fighting the fires in Australia, as compared to California, they use different tactics. The fires with the eucalyptus trees spawn off farther than fires in Southern California. 

“They utilize certain tactics more than we do. They depend on heavy equipment a lot more than us, like dozers and excavators. They don’t fight the fire up as close as we do,” Yearout said. 

In addition to different tactics, fires this time of year are unusual in Australia, and the drought and record-high temperatures made this the worst fire season they had in years, Almanza said. 

“It’s something they have never seen before. Obviously it was really dry, they’re kind of in a drought like California was in the past few years, and as far as fire activities it is something I haven’t seen in years,” Almanza said.

According to CNN, Australia is currently “experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades,” and “last spring was the driest on record.”

Recruited U.S. firefighters had to provide proof of a passport, or Real ID, and meet the experience requirements.

 Almanza said he did some networking and both he and Yearout said they want to travel back to Australia to explore more.