Updated at 10am 30 January 2020
Providing direct support to the bushfire crisis is the Australian Defence Force’s main effort.
CAPTION: Australian Army Private Leonel Salilin (left) from 5th/6th RVR and Private DaWit Htoo, 8th/7th RVR, remove fire-affected fence posts on Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20. Photo by Trooper Jonathan Goedhart.
RELATED STORIES: Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20
ADF support will continue for as long as needed.
Around 5500* ADF personnel are supporting Operation Bushfire Assist.
On advice from the Government, the Governor-General has revoked the compulsory call out of the ADF Reserves with effect February 7, 2020.
- Reserves: About 2400*
- International military: More than 360 (see International support for more information)
* EDITOR’S NOTE: The total number of ADF personnel supporting Operation Bushfire Assist remains the same as yesterday, yet the number of Reservists has been reduced by 100. When questioned about a similar discrepancy on Tuesday, Defence tried to assure us that neither figure was wrong – and that full-timers were not replacing Reservists. CONTACT does not understand how these maths work and Defence has not yet responded to our request for clarification.
The ADF is working with local and state authorities to determine where support is most needed.
Current efforts are focused on assisting state authorities to reopen roads, restore essential services and deliver emergency food, water and fodder to affected communities.
Major General Justin ‘Jake’ Ellwood is the Emergency ADF National Support Coordinator, working in support of state and territory authorities.
Three Joint Task Forces are coordinating the ADF’s effort:
- JTF 646 Victoria: Based on Army’s 4th Brigade, with support elements from across the ADF. RAAF Base East Sale is the central hub for the Defence response in southern areas.
- JTF 1110 New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory: Based on Army’s 5th Brigade, with support elements from across the ADF. Holsworthy Barracks is the central hub for the Defence response across NSW and the ACT.
- JTF 1111 South Australia and Tasmania: Based on Army’s 9th Brigade, with support elements from across the ADF. Keswick Barracks is the central hub for the Defence response across South Australia and Tasmania.
- Defence is also providing assistance to emergency services personnel in Western Australia in support of firefighting efforts.
Victoria – Joint Task Force 646
- Working closely with the Victorian Police, the ADF has supported the return of 382 civilian evacuees to Mallacoota via Australian and Japanese C-130 Hercules and C-27J transport aircraft.
- Fuel supply to the area is continuing until a local contracted solution is in place.
- Civilian organisations have indicated that ADF health teams are no longer required in the area. These teams will be re-deployed elsewhere.
- Fodder has been distributed from Bairnsdale to Wangarabell.
- JTF engineers (including from Papua New Guinea Defence Force and Fiji Military Force) continue to clear the routes to Mallacoota, Omeo and Orbost. Fijian engineers are now working near Mount Drummer.
- A bridge reconnaissance has been conducted near Buchan.
- Tree felling and debris removal is under way along routes in regional centres. Combienbar Road, Bonang Road and the Princes Highway remain priority routes for clearance.
- Carcass disposal in support of local councils in the eastern alpine region continues.
- Fodder drops are continuing to areas of need.
- JTF 646 is providing logistics and transport assistance to Emergency Services in Tallangatta and Corryong.
- Support is being provided to evacuee camps, Services Australia recovery centres and emergency service personnel.
- Two Australian and two Singaporean CH-47 Chinooks are operating from RAAF Base East Sale to support firefighting operations and provide humanitarian assistance to remote and isolated communities. Other ADF aircraft are providing support as needed from around the country.
Health and pastoral support
- Air Force is operating a medical facility at RAAF Base East Sale and providing pastoral care to support Joint Task Force operations. Each JTF is staffed with appropriately credentialed mental health professionals.
- A Small Unmanned Aerial System (Wasp) is based at RAAF Base East Sale to conduct reconnaissance operations in support of JTF 646.
New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory – Joint Task Force 1110
- ADF personnel are supporting the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) to contain the Orroral Valley bushfire now burning out of control in the Namadgi National Park near Canberra. Defence has advised the community the most likely cause of the fire was a helicopter landing light. Teams in the Namadgi National Park were conducting bushfire support operations when the fire started. Read our statement here.
- The commanding officer of the Engineer Task Group has joined the ACT Emergency Services Agency to coordinate ongoing engineering support.
- ADF helicopters are working day and night to conduct fire spotting ahead of the main fire front.
- ADF teams have been door-knocking residents in Tharwa and south-west Canberra to let residents know about the possible need to evacuate, and where they can go for shelter. The JTF is on standby to provide any additional support to the ACT.
- The Air Force Stryker firefighting vehicle was diverted from Picton to Canberra to provide overwatch of engineer plant operations to mitigate the risk of fires being ignited from sparks.
- JTF engineers are developing fire breaks in the Namadgi National Park to support the ACT Department of Parks and Forestry.
- ADF members are helping to deliver 45 tonnes of fodder on behalf of non-government organisation South Coast Rural Relief. Around 18.2 tonnes of fodder have been delivered.
- ADF personnel are helping to distribute care packages from charity Slabs for Heroes to residents in Cooma, Adaminaby and Numeralla.
- The reestablishment of fencing near Wauchope is nearing completion and has commenced in the Richmond Valley.
- An ADF health team is working within Tumbarumba Hospital, which is expected to re-open on February 3.
- The 5th Combat Service Support Battalion is transporting 25 tonnes of donated fodder to farmers in Bodalla.
- ADF teams are helping to recover burnt vehicles in Bombala. Four burnt vehicles have been recovered.
- ADF veterinarian support is being provided to the Numeralla Koala Sanctuary in Cooma.
- The ADF continues to support civilian authorities following the Coulson C-130 Hercules Large Aerial Tanker accident near Adaminaby. Family members were flown to the site by MRH90 helicopter on January 29.
- Support continues to assist the ACT Emergency Services Agency to develop firebreaks around HMAS Harman, near Queanbeyan.
- Bulk water has been delivered in Numeralla, near Cooma.
- Route clearance continues in the Blue Mountains, Clarence Valley, Ilford, Wollemi, Wingecarribee and Nana Glen.
- Teams are assisting with route clearance and fence replacement in Bega, Eden and Biamanga National Park.
- Engineers are felling burned and hazardous trees in Batlow, Tumbarumba, Munderoo and Courabyra Rd (South West Slopes).
- A health team and Army veterinarian are assessing environmental health and animal issues in Batemans Bay, Bega, Cooma and Tumbarumba.
- Civil Military Cooperation personnel are working in Tumut, Taree, Nowra, Cooma, Bombala, Bega, Richmond and Canberra.
- ADF chaplains are operating in Bega, Cobargo, Cooma, Eden, Singleton, Tumbarumba, Batlow and Kiah. An ADF Aboriginal liaison officer is conducting community engagement and liaison with Aboriginal Land Councils within Eurobodalla.
- Primary health care team support is being provided in Tumbarumba, Bega, Braidwood, Bucketty and at HMAS Albatross.
- Accommodation and meals are being provided to emergency services personnel from HMAS Albatross.
- HMAS Choules and HMAS Adelaide have returned to Sydney for refit and refurbishment, but remain on reduced notice to continue to provide support if required.
- MRH90 Taipan, MH-60R Seahawk and EC-135 helicopters are conducting fire mapping, surveillance, and search and rescue operations supporting the NSW Rural Fire Service.
South Australia and Tasmania – Joint Task Force 1111
- Support continues for recovery operations including clearing roads, clearing trees and debris, fixing signposts and removing damaged fences.
- JTF engineers continue to produce drinking water at Penneshaw.
- There is a focus on fatigue management of ADF personnel to make sure forces are sustained to provide continued support for local tasks.
- Teams are undertaking chainsaw tasks, focusing on any outstanding requests for support.
- The JTF continues to support civilian agencies on Kangaroo Island with catering and environmental health support. ADF personnel helped to install contracted demountable shower and laundry facilities.
- ADF teams are supporting the State Emergency Service and National Parks with infrastructure repairs in Parndana and Vivonne Bay.
- ADF teams delivered hay in response to an immediate need from landholders.
- The JTF is helping local farmers to clear routes and boundary fences.
- Teams are assisting with local infrastructure support and clean-up of fire damage.
- Bulk water and environmental health support to local communities is ongoing.
- Engineer support is focusing on infrastructure repair and route clearance, as well as water distribution.
- ADF personnel continue to work with the Lobethal Recovery Centre, which is providing emergency relief and support to residents in the Adelaide Hills and Cudlee Creek areas.
- Water treatment and delivery is ongoing on Kangaroo Island, with the priority of support to high-risk farmers.
- JTF 1111 continues to support SA Water, SA Health, State Emergency Service, National Parks Service and Country Fire Service infrastructure.
- An Australian Army catering detachment is helping to feed personnel conducting support tasks on Kangaroo Island.
- Soldiers and chaplains are supporting vulnerable or at-risk members of the community, including farmers and vineyard owners.
- A P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft continues to conduct reconnaissance flights over fire-affected areas in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. This aircraft is operating from RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia.
Reserve call out arrangements
The Governor-General has revoked the call out on advice from Government. This will take effect on February 7. Reserves who were part of the call out will be gradually drawn-down. Local communities will be consulted.
More than 600 Reservists have thus far been drawn down.
As conditions have changed, the ADF’s focus is moving from immediate emergency support to save life and property, to longer-term support to help communities recover and rebuild.
The ADF will continue to directly support bushfire affected communities with its full-time forces and volunteer reserves.
ADF support includes full-time and reserve members from the following:1st, 3rd, 6th, 7th and 17th Sustainment Brigades. 2nd Division, specifically the 4th, 5th and 9th Brigades.
ADF efforts are supported by more than 350 international military personnel. This includes:
- 98 Papua New Guinea Defence Force members – largely engineers – working with JTF 646
- 54 Republic of Fiji Military Force engineers working alongside ADF personnel in East Gippsland.
- 90* New Zealand Defence Force members.
- 40 Republic of Singapore Air Force members.
- 80 Japan Self-Defense Force members.
- 10 United States Air Force members forming two cargo load teams operating from RAAF Bases Richmond and East Sale.
- The New Zealand Defence Force has provided engineering* support and three NH90 helicopters.
- The Singapore Armed Forces has provided two CH-47 helicopters.
- The Government of Japan has provided two C-130 Hercules aircraft.
* EDITOR’S NOTE: NZDF reported on Tuesday that their engineers and medics were going home. On Wednesday, ADF reflected their departure by indicating that 44 NZDF were supporting Op Bushfire Assist. That number has today climbed to 90, with no announcement of a fresh NZDF deployment from either the ADF or the Kiwis (who are usually very quick with press releases).
Defence base support
- RAAF Base East Sale is supporting Defence aircraft providing emergency response.
- RAAF Base Richmond and RAAF Base Edinburgh are providing airbase access and support for Large Air Tanker and spotter aircraft.
- RAAF Base Wagga is providing refuelling support.
- HMAS Albatross is providing accommodation and meals for RFS personnel.
- Marrangaroo Training Area has been made available for RFS operations.