The American West is Burning

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EM Student, American West is Burning

Well, this week on EM student, we’re talking to Chris Eagle, the chief of the Forest Fire Management Victoria, and these guys are from Victoria, Australia and they’re here in the United States helping out with these crazy wildfires that we’re having over here on the western United States, specifically California where we’re getting. We’re getting beat up. Just after I recorded this episode, I really thought I was going to be doing something specifically talking about how they’re going up north to help out with fighting fires. They landed here in Los Angeles County and I had a fire break out about 15 miles from behind my office. That’s Holy Jim Canyon (Holy Fire) really in Orange County, California and the border of Riverside. This fire that broke out his nasty right now, and we’re tapped out and we don’t have resources to, to fight this thing where you know the guys up north from down here fighting.

I mean it’s, it’s, it’s a bad, a bad season this year and I knew it was going to be a bad season. If you listen to some of my other shows, I talked about this and just, just the way the weather was coming in, the fact that it was so hot and dry and already started having named fires back in May and it was gonna be a bad fire season and right now we have 16 fires burning as of, as of today. And this recording. Yeah, it doesn’t look like a slut and up. So for those guys out there that are my friends that are, that are fighting the fires, you know, I want you guys to stay, stay safe, you know, don’t be a hero on this one and make sure that you guys are using your proper, uh, equipment and your buddy system and stay safe out there.

I know that you guys are doing all you can do. Um, but it’s, it’s dangerous for sure. We’ve already lost a couple of firefighters up at northern California. Um, I think it’s up to seven or eight people who have died so far in the fire up north. And we’re also got the largest fire in California’s history going, which oddly enough was just the largest fire in California’s history. It was named back in October, was the Thomas fire. And so now this new fire up north has, has taken over that where they’ve combined two fire together come to a, a complex fire. So things are, are, are really, uh, really, uh, interesting right now in the emergency management world. And one of the reasons why I put this show, specifically the EM student is because I want you guys to understand that it’s really important for us to keep those international relationships up.

You hear me talking to people from Canada again for Australia, Chris Eagle here from Australia, from Germany, from all over the place where I have people coming in and talking about what they’re doing, the best practices and the fact that we can also go and help them. You know, we have relationships with Mexico, Canada. It’s important to have those relationships across the globe because when we’re not impacted, especially the southern hemisphere there, they’re in their spring, you know, we’re, we’re coming into our fall, separate or different, so when their summer is our winter and we can share resource to this way and it’s, it makes sense. It really does. So that’s why I’m putting it here. For me, it’s, you know, obviously it’s only these fighters do because I see them burning. I go onto the EM Weekly Facebook page, you’ll see the fire burning and it was probably about an hour old or less when I, when I put that film up on the, um, in weekly, webpage or a Facebook page.

So check it out. So let’s get in the interview with Chris. I hope you guys enjoy it. Let me know what you guys think.

Todd DeVoe: I am Really excited to see Chris Eagle from Australia and I was really kind of cool in southern California and we’ve been having a really a lot of fires going on and we’re starting to get some international aid. And for those of you that don’t know, we have a really great relationship with our, uh, fellow firefighters and emergency managers in Australia and this is a really cool example of how we help each other out. So, Chris, welcome to EM weekly. So Chris, so first of all, welcome to the United States and thank you so much for you and your crew for coming out here and helping us out here with these, these nasty wildfires that we’re having. How was your flight?

Chris Eagle: Long but not Too Bad? The staff like everyone in America Really appreciate what we are doing and looked after us on the plane.

Todd DeVoe: Awesome. So what, what is the process as far as getting firefighters or other aid from other countries to come here to the United States?

Chris Eagle: So there’s a number of agreements set up between some of the countries that have wildfire regularly. So between Australia and New Zealand, the US and Canada or pray grade while in advance of any activity that we will come and support each other when needed. And then basically each country looks at their different preparedness levels and when they get to a certain point where they’re starting to run short of local resources, they give the other countries a heads up that they started to head toward the possibility of asking for support. And then when to get with to pull the trigger they formerly send a request. I was saying I look with short of x, Y and zed resources or skills or abilities. Can you help us out?

Todd DeVoe: So now these agreements, obviously we signed them in a long time ago and I know that a few years ago when you guys are having some really bad fires town in Australia, we sent a bunch of firefighters, California out to you guys. Now you guys are doing it on the other way. You guys are coming over here to help us out. What’s it like? I mean is there cross training that goes on throughout the year or is this sort of impromptu training when you guys get here, how does that work for you guys?

Chris Eagle: So the systems in all four the countries like fairly similar on Australia, we had some different terminology but the basic principles of the fire management and the basic principles of firefighting are the same. So what we do is when we get in country that I think the guys are extremely training so they’ll go through and spend a day going through some of the differences and most of them are little things like terminology, different terrain types for different fuels types so just to tweek thoes little things. We really capitalize on the why we do things.

Todd DeVoe: So as an emergency manager and we have done the same thing on that level. We’ve cross-trained with each other and tried to really get to know how the processes are for each different jurisdiction in the United States and obviously the different countries that we go and help during the blue sky days. Do we do. Do you guys ever do send people over here for a couple of months to learn our system and do we do the same thing with you guys, sending firefighters over to Australia for a couple months

EM Student, Episode 21, The American West is Burning

Chris Eagle: It happens a little bit but not necessarily very formally. I think it’s a real opportunity for the future that we could do more of it, but I do know people that had done exchanges between various countries as opportunities pop up.

Todd DeVoe: Yeah. We actually hosted an emergency manager from new South Wales over here a couple of years ago and it was a really great experience to really his name is Steve Warren and it was a great experience to have him out here. And let us talk about the differences and I can see the benefit of having that happening with our firefighters. So what are some of the complications that arise by, by moving these mass number of men and equipment and, and just your, just the logistics part of it.

Chris Eagle: So one of the first considerations is actually the, um, the current scenario at home. So we’re just coming into spring but we’re actually heading towards a dry summer ourselves. So first they have to consider what kinds of ability we need at home and what and extension of 6 or 7 weeks add to the fatigue levels of so many individuals. then we start to look at…if you think about it like a family holiday, what you’re going to plan on a family holiday. It’s the same just bigger. So we’ve got a 103 Australians and 36 New Zealanders in country now other than looking at the capacity of the airline to move stuff, the time and the lead time it takes to get that many people are arranged and ready to go and look at the logistics of just finding accommodations when they get into town. We spent all day here planning that. The training course, the induction and the deployment. It’s not hard. It’s locking at any logistics chief who has that role its the same sort of concept just with a big single group.

Todd DeVoe: What’s the cost for something like this?

Chris Eagle: To be honest, I haven’t actually added it up yet, but it is a significant cost when you look at that. Many people was telling me a building or wage costs, all the airfares, all the other stuff that goes with it, but it’s one of those things where when you’re running out of capacity, waltzed up, the budget’s going to be a consideration to look at what you need to do to make sure the community. So.

Todd DeVoe: Right. No, I agree with you and everybody listening to the show will agree with just one of those questions as a, uh, as a policy guy and we go through that. That’s why I asked that question because obviously, you know, there’s a reason why we have a finance section in the emergency management. Right?

Chris Eagle: It’s not an open check book, you’ve got to be smart with your resources.

Todd DeVoe: So what roles do you guys play over here when you get here?

Chris Eagle: All sorts of different roles. Staff are a mixture of air support role, so..I want to get the correct local terminology, Heli-base managers, divisional sups, a crew, bosses, task force bosses, safety offices. These are some of the rolles that we’d been asked to come and do the, overhead roles in the past we have seen incident management crews and ground cruise, but this has been ask for this mission.

Todd DeVoe: Okay, cool. So when you guys get boots on the ground, do you know when you’re going to be out on the fire line?

Chris Eagle: Because there is so much far activity. It’s been pretty smooth transition. So training one day a and then tomorrow they’ll be striding setting to a dispatch, it looks like Northern California region and the Northwest region.

Todd DeVoe: Okay, great. So are you guys heading up to Redding by any chance

Chris Eagle: they say I planned it out of those details. Ready for tomorrow. One hundred percent sure. Which actual fires the guys will end up on.

Todd DeVoe: Yeah, no, we have a lot of them going out there for sure. You know, it’s uh, it’s amazing. A couple of months ago we’re talking about, this is back in, I think it was May and I was talking to one of the guys who back in Boston actually who we monitor all this type of stuff and I told them, I said this is going to be nasty fire season. He agreed with me 100 percent because in May we were already having wildfires, which is normally not heard out here and to see how dry and hot it’s been the summer. I just don’t think it’s going to get to lead up anytime soon. So, uh, again, like I said, I appreciate you guys being out here and I know that your fire season like you said, sounds like it’s going to be a doozy. I mean hopefully that we’re going to be able to reciprocate and send, uh, our, our, uh, our troops out there coming here to the United States. Like we kind of talked about it a little bit earlier, so there’s the logistics side of it, but outside of the terminology, is there any other challenges that are out there that, that when you guys get here you go, oh, you know, I mean I suppose the climate is a little bit different, but is it, what are the other challenges that are here for you guys?

Chris Eagle: The time difference troughs us for a couple of days until our bodies get adjusted. But probably one of the other differences is just the difference in Australia. I am not geologist bur Australia is much older So we don’t have the mountains already here, so that’s probably one of the biggest differences. The other one is some of the fuels and the pine and the cypress that are over here and we don’t have that. So once we have big trees that Nash, so we use the big trees, but just not necessarily big trees with some of the fuels. Attach the other side. Once again, it’s not a completely different when you look at science, but it’s just one of those things. You’ve just got to understand that at some of those fuels burned differently. The peat layer and the mulch layer on the ground, we don’t have that peat layer on the ground, so it’s those things that aren’t hard to get used to, but you just got to be aware of.

Todd DeVoe: Right. What do you talk about? Eucalyptus, I don’t know how many years ago, but somebody started planting eucalyptus. They thought it was a good idea out here in Orange County and LA County and I know that the fire department was really happy to when they started, eradicated, knows a cutting them out because they’re saying that Eucalyptus burn really hot, right?

Chris Eagle: Correct. Correct. So the eucalyptus trees and if you think in Sydney there’s an area called the Blue Mountains and the reason it’s called a blue mountain and eucalyptus oil as a basically evaporates into the atmosphere, kind a bluish tinge to it. But the eucalyptus is actually really, really high oil content. One of the products it’s made from an oil. That’s the reason they burned so hot.

Todd DeVoe: Yeah, it does burn hot, that’s for sure. And uh, yeah, so, but the difference now is a question on the eucalyptus and I know like pine trees can explode, do eucalyptus explode as well,

Chris Eagle: not in the same sort of fashion. And it’s interesting when, when the media talk about the fire behavior occurs and foreign writers sprayed when eucalyptus in a hot dry season when the ground is extremely dry and the trees have started to dry out has burn very, very rapidly. One of the big differences we have compared to Paul and he’s probably the spotting wait, we can have sporting mess, short term spotting, but we can also have very long distance on different barks Eucalyptus. I wouldn’t say it explodes but it does burn very rapidly.

Todd DeVoe: That’s just amazing that, you know, it’s kind of cool that we’re here doing different types of stuff, but it’s the same concepts. And, and uh, the, the overall general goal, right is, is life safety and making people get back to their home as soon as we can in protecting that stuff. So again, I thank you guys for coming all the way from Australia, one of my favorite countries to ever go to. I, I can’t go there enough and I’m so glad that you guys are here

Chris Eagle: No worries it is a pleasure,

Todd DeVoe: You have a wonderful day. Hey, you guys stay safe out there and, uh, you know, drink plenty of water.

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