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'Returning The Favor': Angeles National Forest Service Sending Firefighters To Australia

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Angeles National Forest Service is set to send 20 firefighters from different parts of the L.A. Metro area to Australia to help battle the raging wildfires devastating the country.

The firefighters, many of which battled the Saddle Ridge Fire in October, will assemble at the Little Tujunga Hotshot Station on Monday and fly out of Los Angeles International Airport shortly after, said Forest Service spokesman Andrew Mitchell.

"This is definitely kind of a once-in-a-career opportunity for many folks," said Chief Robert Garcia with the U.S. Forest Service. "They have experience leading crews themselves, and they all anywhere from five to 20 years of experience."

According to Mitchell, the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho requested the need for assistance.

Firefighters with the National Interagency Fire Center took off from LAX Thursday night for Australia, where a state of emergency has been declared. More than 200 wildfires are burning in Australia's two most-populous states.

"Australian firefighters come over here to train with us to fight out fires, so we are returning the favor to them," Mitchell said.

The firefighters will be in Australia for 35 days before they are rotated out.

"It's possible we will send over another crew when this crew rotates out," he said.

Although experienced, new terrain may pose as a challenge to the SoCal firefighters.

"A local knowledge of how weather patterns affect a specific canyon, that will be the piece of knowledge they won't have and they'll have to communicate with locals," said Garcia.

More than 380 homes have been destroyed just this week on the Southern Coast of New South Wales, and a total of 18 people have died nationwide.

Californians are all too familiar with the weather Australia is experiencing – cooler weather helping the conditions over the past few days, but high temperatures and strong winds forecast to return this weekend.

The fires have been devastating to Australia's environment and wildlife, with almost a third of New South Wales' koalas killed in the fires and a third of their habitat destroyed.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)


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