Valley firefighters head to Australia to fight wildfires

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- As firefighting efforts continue in Australia, the US is sending in reinforcements - and a local fireman is answering the call.

US Forest Service Operations Chief Mark Smith of Oakhurst will join a team of California firefighters deploying to New South Wales for a month.

Action News caught up with the fireman as he took off from Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

"They have a long way to go before they even get to rebuild... and that's what we're here to do is help," said Smith.

Smith has fought fires with the US Forest Service for more than 35 years and is stationed in the Sierra National Forest.

He's geared up to meet with the rest of his incident management team in LA before a 17-hour flight.

While they don't know their exact assignment yet, they'll be tasked with strategizing how to get the upper hand on the fire.

"My job is to see how we will actually fight the fire, how resources will be deployed and used on the fire," he said.

Fires across southern Australia have claimed at least 33 lives since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and burned upwards of 26 million acres.

Smith said preparation is key.

He said though their fuel types differ, there are similarities between Australia and the US that will help them in the firefight.

"They have the same issue, with the interior heating up and hot offshore flows, and that helps promote a lot of the fire behavior we're seeing right now."

As for why Smith took on the assignment...

"That's what I do. We fight fire for the United States, any place in Canada, Mexico. This just happens to be Australia this time. I'm a firefighter, I was asked to go. That's what I'm gonna do," he said.

Smith and the rest of his team will return March 8th.
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