Forest Fire Management Victoria’s (FFMVic) John Moser has returned home safely to Avoca after being deployed to the United States for just over five weeks to help fight the devastating fires in Northern California.

Mr Moser said the experience is something that will live with him forever.

“We first landed in Boise, Idaho where the control centre for the California fires is based.  We received a briefing about the local topography, weather and fire behaviour.

“From Boise, we were immediately sent to Redding, California for another briefing.

“At this briefing they warned us of things to watch out for such as wildlife and other threats to our safety.  To my great surprise, the biggest threat was not cougars or bears, but marijuana growers protecting their crops.

“From Redding we went on a three-hour bus ride to Ukiah, about two hours north of San Francisco, to work on the Mendicino fire,” Mr Moser said.

“When we got there, I couldn’t believe how dry it actually was.  They hadn’t had rain for 100 days and when had rained before that, it was only a quarter of an inch.

“To date, the Mendicino fire is the biggest California has ever seen at approximately 182,000 hectares in size.

“There were firefighters from Alaska, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia and other agencies helped as well including the US Army and the United States Forest Service.

“Prisoners were also there to help with firefighting to help cook the meals at base camp, which at its peak, was 3,000 people.

“I worked directly on the fire line as task force leader in charge of the hazardous tree felling crew which consisted of up to four people.

“The shift lengths were 14 days and up to 14 hours a day.

“The biggest challenge for me was learning to adapt to the differences such as the radios, weather, the Santa Ana winds*, different species of trees, which took me a bit to get my head around and the different fire terminology used.

“The Americans attack the fire very differently to us as well.  They seem to fight a lot closer to the front of the fire than we do, we step back a lot further.  However, our country is a lot flatter and less populous, so I understand how the steep terrain and more assets can slow their progress and force them into situations that are a bit more dangerous.  

“The whole experience was unforgettable but the best thing about it was the people I met. The people on the fire line were very generous, kind and willing to help.

“I made a lot of good friends over there and am still in contact with them.  I also met a lot of other Australians from other states that I travelled over with to Boise.

“To be selected to go across to America as part of the Victorian deployment was a humbling and rewarding experience.

““I would definitely go over again and this time it would be much easier as I would know how to use all the systems and be familiar with the environment.”

*The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry down-slope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California and northern Baja California. They are known for the hot, dry weather that they bring in autumn (often the hottest of the year), but they can also arise at other times of the year.