TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As we sit safely in Southern Arizona, devastating fires continue to rage out of control in the land “Down Under.” Nearly 15-million acres have been scorched across Australia this fire season, with more than 2,700 firefighters working hard to control the flames.
Coronado National Forest Aviation Officer Sean Cox is one of them. Cox was selected by the National Interagency Fire Center to help battle the historic flames and flew to Australia on Dec. 5, leaving his family at home in Oro Valley for the holidays.
“It wasn’t the easiest discussion,” said Cox during a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon.
Cox is working for New South Wales, Rural Fire Service as in Air Operations Management. His crew has been fighting the Gospers Mountain fire, which has burned hundreds of thousands of U.S. acres.
“The fire behavior here has been nothing short of incredible," said Cox.
Cox’s responsibilities include coordinating and utilizing resources from the sky, like dropping fire retardant or using drones to find hot spots.
Cox said crews in Australia use “pretty similar tactics” in fighting fires as they do in Arizona with the mission to keep the flames from nature’s fuel - the eucalyptus tree.
“Once you’re on the ground here... you know the news coverage, the media, the social media, etc is one thing," said Cox. "But, to actually be on the ground and be aware of the magnitude of the fires here, certainly makes you want to forego your personal needs to stay here and help the country of Australia, for sure.”
Thousands of miles from home, Cox said he was grateful for the responsibility and trust he earned quickly from local crews.
Cox will return to Southern Arizona this weekend. More American firefighters are already on the way to take Cox and his crews place.