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One employee of Prineville BLM District and another from Ochoco National Forest dispatched to fight wildfires

One Prineville area firefighter and two others from the Central Oregon area have joined others from throughout the state in assisting firefighting efforts in Australia.

The BLM in Oregon and Washington announced Monday that it has deployed four firefighters to assist Australia with the massive wildfires spread throughout the country. These firefighters include staff from the BLM Vale, Prineville, and Burns Districts that have accompanied 13 other interagency Pacific Northwest firefighters also assisting Australia. The BLM firefighters from Oregon and Washington being deployed to Australia have expertise in air tactical support, wildland fire incident management and firefighter crew leadership.

Among those deployed are Tavis Senske, who lives in Prineville and works for the Prineville BLM District, James Osborne, who works in air operations with Deschutes National Forest and used to be a Prineville Hotshot, and Norm Sealing, who is an employee of Ochoco National Forest.

"They have already arrived in Australia," said Cassidy Kern, public affairs specialist for Deschutes National Forest. "They left on Jan. 4 and arrived there Jan. 6." Fires that started to burn in August have continued uninterrupted, with large areas of both New South Wales and Queensland burned, multiple property losses and fatalities. Fire conditions continue to be challenging in New South Wales and Queensland, while new fires are causing concern farther south in Victoria. Fire conditions in Australia are extreme due to an extended drought, hot temperatures and relative humidity in the single digits.

Dennis Teitzel, the Prineville BLM District Manager, said that sending local firefighters out of the country is not uncommon if extra help is needed elsewhere.

"This is part of our mutual support that we provide," he explained.

The last fire assistance between the two countries was in August 2018 when 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel were sent to the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. The Australian and New Zealand personnel filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, heavy equipment, helicopter operations and structure protection.

The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group is working with the National Interagency Coordination Center to mobilize resources and distribute the request across interagency partners. The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.

"We are basically reciprocating and returning the favor to them in appreciation for the help they provided us in the past," Teitzel said, adding that the local district sent firefighters to Canada this past summer as well. "It is not uncommon to have mutual agreements in place to do those things."

In the Pacific Northwest, the fire program is managed cooperatively between the two agencies and in close collaboration with the Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group, an interagency group including the five federal wildland fire agencies, two state forestry agencies, and two state fire marshal associations. The interagency jurisdiction covers both Oregon and Washington and includes nine BLM districts, 19 national forests, and the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

By working cooperatively, the agencies administer fire, fuels and aviation programs in an effort to eliminates duplication, increases program efficiency and capitalizes on the expertise of each agency's personnel.

Whether any of the federal agencies based in Prineville will send additional help to Australia is something that will get decided as need is determined.

"If there is a request for them to stay longer (than 30 days), we would look at that on a case-by-case basis," Teitzel said.

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