WHEN Wangaratta firefighter Justin Tilson heard about expressions of interest for Australian firefighters to join America’s summer fire-fighting efforts, he put his hand up to help out.
And a few weeks later the former airforce pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was joining 71 other Australians, including firefighters, Department of Water, Land and Planning employees and New Zealand firefighters, helping to combat fires which have so far destroyed nine million acres of land.
The Oxley resident spent five and a half weeks as part of the aerial firefighting efforts in the state of Washington, America, helping to combat the country’s worst fire season on record before returning home late last week.
“It was very bad across the western part of the country – I was in Washington State working on two different fires,” he said.
“I was never worried about my safety – being in the air you’re never really at threat, you can get in and get our pretty quickly, which is a good thing.”
While the 34-year-old expected to be challenged by the experience, he didn’t expect the immense, widespread gratitude shown to the crew from the American public.
“The people we met – and the people we worked with – showed us incredible hospitality, it was extremely humbling,” he said.