20 California firefighters head to Australia as new threat looms

Thousands left homeless in Australia
Thousands left homeless in Australia 02:27

Australian officials on Tuesday released information related to arrests connected to the deadly bushfires there. Since November, police have arrested 183 people.

Meanwhile, victims of the massive bushfires are returning to their neighborhoods and seeing the destruction firsthand. Insurers report there's nearly half a billion U.S. dollars in damage. That estimate is expected to rise sharply.

Crews are still racing to get the upper hand, before worsening conditions threaten to intensify the fires later this week.

Firefighters have been battling the fires for about five months now, with nearly 200 bushfires still burning across southeast Australia. And all this destruction is unveiling a nation in crisis.

Thousands have been left homeless. Many in rural areas have spent days without electricity and drinking water. Now, record high temperatures and severe drought are making it tough to battle the unprecedented fires.

One of the biggest challenges for fire officials right now is a giant plume of smoke that's hampering air operations near the Port of Eden in New South Wales. As the fire roared through the logging community, it started 75,000 tons worth of wood chips on fire. It could now take weeks to put out.

Listen to this episode on ART19

But Australian firefighters won't be battling the flames alone. On Monday, a crew of 20 veteran firefighters from California, who've fought some of the state's most devastating wildfires, suited up and shipped out to Melbourne.

"We're definitely there to represent the United States. The forest service," Leonard Dimaculangan, who's in charge of the crew, said. "Getting along with fellow firefighters from another country, state, it kind of goes hand in hand."

Those California firefighters expect to stay in Southeast Australia for about a month. They'll be facing growing challenges, including the potential for a fresh wave of fires to ignite this weekend.