Alaska firefighter called on to fight "unprecedented" Australia bushfires

Image Courtesy of Kyle Cowan.
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Hundreds of thousands of acres are burning in bushfires in Australia, where an Alaskan has deployed with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to help put out the flames.

"Their fire season, so far, has been unprecedented," said Kyle Cowan, Associate Manager for the BLM’s Alaska Fire Service. He’s been stationed in New South Wales for a couple of weeks, deploying BLM personnel to different fires.

As of Saturday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reports over 120 fires at various levels of containment.

"And their summer season is just barely beginning,” Cowan said. "So now they're going into fire season with extreme drought, very hot temperatures … a lot of their water resources are either dried up or quickly drying up."

Cowan is the only Alaskan deployed in a group of about 20 firefighting staff from the U.S. His job is to oversee that small group of fighters and dispatch them where they’re needed most. He says Australia's is a volunteer-driven force with just over 70,000 firefighters, and “they’ve deployed everybody they’ve got.”

"Fire crews have been fighting fire for the last 90 days. So obviously they're tired,” Cowan said. “It's just hard to keep people going at that pace, at that rate, all the time."

Cowan says BLM men are working from the air and the ground -- but with fire season just beginning, they're in for a long road ahead.

"It's going to take a lot of moisture (to put out the fires). At this point, they're not predicting any moisture until the latter part of January. So we've got a very long way to go with very little moisture hope in the future," Cowan said.

As of Dec. 7, the Guardian reports there have been 6 deaths and over 1,000 homes have burned across New South Wales and Queensland.

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