Forest Fire Management Victoria’s (FFMVic) Andy Koren has returned home safely to Mildura after being deployed to the United States for two weeks to help fight the devastating fires in Northern California.
Mr Koren said the experience is something that will live with him forever.
“We arrived in Sacramento, the capital of California, on Wednesday October 18 and received a briefing about the local topography, weather, fire behaviour, wildlife and poison oak* before we were immediately sent to Santa Rosa,” Mr Koren said.
“I was initially based at the Nunns Fire in Santa Rosa and then deployed to the Pocket Fire in Geyersville, about 37 kilometres north of Santa Rosa, in the wine region of the Sonoma.
“The Nunns Fire was approximately 23,000 hectares and destroyed several houses and businesses and the Pocket Fire was approximately 7,100 hectares.
“Fire-fighting anywhere in the world is similar in terms of strategies and tactics.”
“hat resonated with me was how dry California was, the steep and undulating mountains, the tree mortality from bark beetles and the thousands of people working on the fires.
“There were 486 different agencies involved in all the California fires put together.”
“Hundreds of firefighters poured in to California as crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North and South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona.”
He said other teams also came from Canada.
“The National Guard handled the camp we were based in, which housed approximately 6,000 people.”
“There were also more than 400 inmates from minimum security prisons helping out with the fires.”
“My role was to work alongside local divisional supervisors that had between 40 - 100 people reporting to them.”
“They supervised fire engines, crews, machinery and aircraft.
“I was also fortunate enough to work directly on the fire line.”
“When we arrived, we could see the devastation and destruction that that the fires had already caused. It was reported that approximately 8,400 buildings and homes have been destroyed and that these are the worst fires that California has ever seen.”
“Tourism has been severely affected and it will be a long journey ahead as the community recovers.”
“The community spirit, comradery and support for the emergency services during and after the fire-fight was something special.
“We worked along seasoned professionals who supported us, shared their local knowledge and welcomed us as part of the team. I learned a great deal from the Americans on how they approach and manage fires in their part of the world.”
“The entire trip was memorable from the people we met and the hospitality shown to us to the life-long friendships that were forged.”
“I know many of my Victorian colleagues have and will continue to, put their hands up to support emergency services across Australia and the world during challenging times.”
“To be selected to go across to America as part of the Victorian deployment was a humbling and rewarding experience.”
Poison oak is a woody tree, shrub or vine that when touched causes an allergic reaction which often causes an itchy, blistering rash.