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Two Idaho Falls District BLM Firefighters battling Australian blazes


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Idaho Falls BLM Battalion Chief Kris Bruington on the left. | Courtesy ABC News facebook

IDAHO FALLS — Two local firefighters have been sent to help fight raging bushfires burning across Australia.

Idaho Falls District Bureau of Land Management Engine Captain Farron Kunkel and Battalion Chief Kris Bruington arrived in Melbourne on Thursday, along with over 30 other North American firefighters and two liaison officers, according to a press release on VicEmergency. The release said the North American firefighters will be working with Victorian crews in eastern Victoria and will be there for 28 days.

“Our people are always willing to help, and we want to support our neighbors, the Australians,” Idaho Falls BLM District spokeswoman Kelsey Griffee said. “I know Bruington and Kunkle are happy to head down to Australia to assist.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the press release said more than 1,000 firefighters were spread throughout the state of Victoria. At the time, there were 51 fires burning across the state that had destroyed more than 3,000 square miles. But this isn’t the only part of the country in flames.

New South Wales has been affected the most. According to an article published by CNN, there was around 136 fires burning as of Monday with 69 not contained. Three thousand army reserve forces and others with specialist capabilities were called to help with the fire that’s destroyed more than 1,300 houses and almost 9 million acres in New South Wales. Roughly 480 million animals have perished.

Across the country’s six states, CNN said more than 14.7 million acres have been burned.

Griffee said Kunkel’s been assigned to a 20-man hand crew comprised of firefighters from across the nation and Bruington is there as an overhead (supervisory position).

“We have assistance agreements between the countries between BLM and forest service to go help our international neighbors, and Australia reached out and said that they might be calling for assistance,” Griffee said. “So we started compiling a roster of available firefighters from the BLM and forest service.”

Australia was looking for firefighters with certain qualifications to assist, according to Griffee.

Australia bushfires. | Courtesy NSW Rural Fire Service Facebook

The press release said the day after the firefighters arrived, they attended briefing and training sessions at the Victorian Emergency Management Institute in Mount Macedon. They were expected to help regain road access across East Gippsland and go with local crews on fire tankers on Saturday.

“Our strong and ongoing relationships with North American firefighting agencies means we are able to share personnel, skills, knowledge, equipment and technology in times of emergency,” Victorian State Response Controller Stephanie Rotarangi said in the press release.

It also mentions that along with the group Kunkel and Bruington arrived with, Australia is expecting 71 more firefighters between the United States and Canada to arrive this week.

Other Idaho fire resources including the BLM Twin Falls and Boise districts were also ordered to help with the bushfires. National Interagency Fire Center Spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao told EastIdahoNews there are 21 firefighters from Idaho in Australia.

There are over 2,000 firefighters working fires across the country.

“We are extremely grateful for the expertise and support provided, and thank our North American colleagues for responding so quickly to the call for assistance, and to their families and employers for supporting this deployment,” Rotarangi said in the release.