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Coronavirus restrictions threaten sharing of bushfire crews

written by Adam Thorn | April 20, 2020

Coronavirus restrictions are threatening to stop countries sharing bushfire crews and aircraft.

Stuart Ellis, chief executive of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, told The Sydney Morning Herald that social distancing and border controls had already frustrated plans to send personnel to the US.

During the summer’s bushfire crisis, Australia was lent the services of almost 1,000 overseas firefighters, including crews from the US and Canada alongside support from other nations such as New Zealand, Singapore and Papua New Guinea.

Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, and those that do so are then forced to spend 14-days in a hotel room to stop the spread of coronavirus. Meanwhile, citizens have also been strongly advised not to leave the country, too.

“The US counterparts I have spoken to gave me a strong reassurance they are going to great lengths to protect their firefighters with social distancing and other measures when they come together to fight fires, but it’s unclear if America would have restrictions on requirements for self-isolation,” Ellis said.


“The availability of Australian firefighters, who normally deploy for a month to the US, could also be tested by the requirement to isolate for two weeks on their return to Australia.”

Australia’s Home Affairs Department told the newspaper that the US had not yet requested any help from Australian firefighters so far this year, and that if it did, help would be “considered on a case by case basis, taking into account restrictions and risks”.

“Our first responsibility is to the health and safety of Australian fire crews,” a department spokesperson said.

The news comes after the NSW Rural Fire Service said it had cut back on preventative burning in order to prevent smoke that could be damaging to the lungs of coronavirus sufferers.

On Friday, Australian Aviation reported a dramatic ATSB report that revealed how firefighting crews from the US and Canada nearly died in 2018 when their Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane crashed into a dam.

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