Australia wildfire

In this undated photo released from the Rural Fire Service, a C-130 Hercules plane called "Thor" drops water during a flight in Australia. Officials in Australia on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, searched for a water tanker plane feared to have crashed while fighting wildfires.

None of the Central Oregon firefighters working in Australia were among the three people killed in the crash of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker Thursday.

James Osborne, a firefighter from Sisters, and Prineville firefighters Norm Sealing and Tavis Fenske told The Bulletin they were safe.

“The group I’m in is working in Victoria on fires,” Fenske wrote in an email Thursday afternoon. “We are all fine here. Our hearts go out to those families and friends of the lost firefighters.”

The C-130 had departed the Richmond Royal Air Force Base, 30 miles northwest of Sydney, with a load of retardant and was on a firebombing mission. Osborne was among the firefighters at the base.

“The wildland firefighter community is a family,” Osborne wrote in an email. “When there is a loss, it is felt throughout the entire organization. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the fallen.”

All three firefighters were deployed earlier this month along with dozens of other Americans to help Australia fight the out-of-control fires affecting that country.

In the U.S., Osborne is a division fire chief on the Cascade Division of Central Oregon Fire Management Service and works out of the Deschutes National Forest’s Sisters Rangers District.

The crash occurred in the Snowy Monaro Area in southern New South Wales, according to a statement from Coulson Aviation, the British Columbia-based company that owned the water tanker.

“The accident is reported to be extensive and we are deeply saddened to confirm there were three fatalities,” according to a statement on the Coulson website.

Robyn Baldwin, a spokesperson for Coulson , declined to provide additional details of the crash to The Bulletin.

“We are not taking requests for interviews today,” she said in an email. “We ask for privacy as we mourn the loss of our crew.”

Patrick Lair, public affairs officer for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland, said Thursday afternoon that there are seven Central Oregon firefighters deployed to Australia and all of them are safe.

Oregon has 20 firefighters currently working in Australia on 30-day assignments, according to Deb Schweizer, public affairs specialist for the National Interagency Fire Center, based in Boise, Idaho. One Oregon firefighter has already returned from the Australian frontlines.

The Fire Center announced Wednesday that the U.S. is sending additional Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service wildlife personnel to help the ongoing bushfire suppression efforts in Australia. Two 20-person hand crews departed the U.S. on Wednesday.

The U.S. has deployed more than 200 Forest Service and Interior Department staff to Australia.

“Though recent rain has helped the situation, Australia is only halfway through their summer season and they’re dealing with unprecedented fire suppression efforts,” said Jeff Rupert, the Interior Department director of the office of wildland fire. “This recent group of crews will assist with on-the-ground fire suppression, in addition to personnel who’ve been filling fire management roles.”

Reporter: 541-617-7818,

mkohn@bendbulletin.com

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