Cal Fire San Diego Stresses Assistance for Australia Must Follow Protocol

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After reports of federal Southern California firefighters headed to Australia, Cal Fire San Diego firefighters said people have been asking why they are not going to help and some are upset at the perceived lack of response.

"The natural inclination by the public is to question: Are we helping out?," Cal Fire San Diego Captain Issac Sanchez said.

While they would love to lend a hand, Sanchez stressed there is protocol in place that the department, as well as others across the country, must follow.

"It's not for a lack of desire. We certainly are willing to assist our cooperators wherever they may be because they come and they help us," Sanchez added. "There's a process to it and we have to respect that process."

When a call goes out for international help in fighting wildfires, the requests start at the national level for federal firefighters from networks like the national parks and forest services.

For example, the Angeles National Forest Service is sending 20 federal firefighters to Australia, a spokesman said Friday.

The firefighters, who come from all parts of the Los Angeles area and battled the Saddle Ridge Fire in October, will fly out of Los Angeles International Airport on Monday. They will be among 70 federal personnel heading to Australia.

If there are not enough federal firefighters, then the requests trickle down to state departments.

"What we've seen so far is that these requests are primarily for specific jobs," Sanchez said. "There are jobs that need to be done whether they're in logistics or operations, planning."

In Australia, the prime minister called up about 3,000 reservists on Saturday as the threat of wildfires escalated in at least three states, while strong winds and high temperatures were forecast to bring flames to populated areas including the suburbs of Sydney.

The deadly wildfires, which have been raging since September, have already burned about 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land. That’s more than any single year in the U.S. since Harry Truman was president.

California has previously received assistance from out-of-state to help fight large scale fires such as the Cedar Fire in 2003 and the Thomas Fire in 2018, Sanchez said.

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