US firefighters (pictured) received help from their Australian and New Zealander colleagues to battle wildfires in California. Image: Flickr user Daria Devyatkina.

Firefighters from Australia and New Zealand Aid in Combatting Wildfires in the Pacific Northwest

Asia Australia

The summer of 2015 has seen a record-breaking drought, in combination with a heat wave, produce numerous wildfires in the western United States. The states of California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington have the most wildfires, which at last count totaled 76.

All of these states have faced such wildfires before, with California especially hard hit as it battles its fourth year of crippling drought. However, as the wildfires have grown in intensity, the ability for local crews, the US military, and outside help from Canada to battle the fires has met with setbacks. Now the US has turned to partners in the Asia Pacific for help: Australia and New Zealand. On August 25, 70 firefighting experts from Australia and New Zealand landed in Boise, Idaho to be dispatched to combat wildfires across the 5 most-affected states.

Over the past 50 years the United States has traded information and techniques with Australia and New Zealand on the best ways to prevent and mitigate wildfires. In 2000, firefighters from Australia and New Zealand combatted wildfires on US soil for the first time. In 2003, the United States and Australia enacted the Wildfire Arrangement, which provided an avenue for both sides to request assistance from and offer aid to the other in the form of personnel, equipment, and more, to fight fires in each country. What has made this relationship even more beneficial is the fact that wildfire seasons for each country occur at opposite times during the year, allowing personnel from each side to be free to answer calls for help.

In July, California signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian state of Victoria to share technical knowledge in wildfire and flood management. The agreement was formed in large part on the basis of the similar climates and conditions that California and Victoria share.

Sarah Wang is the Event Coordinator and a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.