Idaho Falls District BLM Firefighters return home after fighting Australian bushfires
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IDAHO FALLS — Two Idaho Falls District Bureau of Land Management firefighters recently returned to eastern Idaho after battling blazes in the “Land Down Under”.
Battalion Chief Kris Bruington and Engine Captain Farron Kunkel arrived home after spending about a month fighting fires in the state of Victoria. Since September, bushfires have destroyed more than 44 million acres in Australia, according to CNN.
“It’s a privilege (to go),” Kunkel said. “We’d always hear about people being sent to Australia over the years. We consider it a once in a career kind of thing…It’s a great honor.”
The National Interagency Fire Center said the last time US firefighters were called to Australia was in 2010.
Bruington, who has 18 years of wildland fire experience, served as a Task Force Leader while in Australia. He oversaw 20 United States and Australian firefighters and their engines. They were responsible for structure protection, backfiring control lines, handline construction and hazardous tree removal on different fires across the East Gippsland region, according to a press release.
During a news conference Thursday, Bruington said he offered his expertise in Australia, but he also learned from the natives.
“Oftentimes we get set in how we do business here even in east Idaho or the United States,” Bruington said. “To experience different methods, organizations, command structures, everything is different, but it’s similar.”
Kunkel also has 18 years of wildland knowledge, and he served as a member of a firefighting task force in Victoria. They assisted different organizations such as Forest Fire Management Victoria, Country Fire Authority and Rural Fire Service. Fire suppression efforts, protecting residential properties and clearing roads of hazards to maintain public access were part of his job, the press release explained.
“To see the culture, the landscape, new vegetation, it adds to our experience as firefighters,” Kunkel said. “We took away a lot of experience that we’ll carry the rest of our careers.”
As of Monday, the NIFC reported 244 US personnel have assisted with the fires and 105 are currently assigned to Australia.
“Being able to be part of it (was the most rewarding),” Kunkel said. “We wanted to learn from them as much as they wanted to learn from us.”
Bruington said when they were in Australia, the weather and temperatures were moderate, but Fire Management Officer Joel Gosswiller said despite the rainfall Australia’s received, they are sending more local firefighters to Australia next week as they’re expecting more fire activity.