Op Bushfire Assist – 30 January UPDATE

Updated at 10am 31 January 2020

CAPTION: Soldiers from the 1st/19th Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment, refill fire retardant solution for a New South Wales Rural Fire Service plane in Canberra during Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20. Photo by Signalman Robert Whitmore.

RELATED STORIES: Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20

Providing direct support to the bushfire crisis is the Australian Defence Force’s main effort.

ADF support will continue for as long as needed.

About 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.

Personnel numbers

  • Reserves: About 2400
  • International military: More than 320 (see International support for more information) [down 40 on previous day]


ADF support

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

Recent activity

  • The JTF is preparing for the increase in temperatures and fire threat over the weekend. Making sure ADF personnel are managing rest periods is important to sustain our commitment. Teams have practised and prepared for increased fire activity and are ready to respond to requests for support.
  • Local authorities have requested the ADF Primary Health Care Team remains in Mallacoota to support the Country Fire Authority as conditions are expected to deteriorate. This support will continue for as long as needed.
  • Route clearance continues along the A1, Bonang and Combienbar Roads. This has resulted in some areas being opened for resident access around Orbost.
  • 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.

Engineer support

  • 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 working near Mount Drummer.
  • Tree felling and debris removal is under way along routes in regional centres.

Ongoing activity

  • Carcass disposal in support of local councils in the eastern alpine region continues.
  • Fodder drops are continuing to areas of need.
  • Teams are ccontinuing to provide catering, fuel supply and environmental health support at key areas at Bairnsdale, Orbost, Wangaratta, Corryong and Omeo.
  • Support is being provided to evacuee camps, six Services Australia recovery centres and emergency service personnel.

Air support



  • 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.

UAS support

  • 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

Recent activity

  • The ADF is supporting the ACT Emergency Services Agency to contain the Orroral Valley bushfire burning out of control in the Namadgi National Park near Canberra.
  • The commanding officer of the Engineer Task Group is working  within the ACT Emergency Services Agency to coordinate ongoing engineering support.
  • ADF helicopters have increased night-time fire spotting. Combined efforts with additional support from RAAF P-8A aircraft surveillance are achieving 24-hour fire mapping within the Namadgi National Park.
  • JTF engineers are supporting fire break tasks. This includes in the Namadgi National Park to support the ACT Department of Parks and Forestry.
  • Fire breaks are also being constructed to the immediate south of the Canberra suburb of Banks and near HMAS Harman, near Queanbeyan.
  • ADF teams supported local authorities to door-knock 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 as needed.
  • An Air Force Stryker firefighting vehicle is in Canberra to provide overwatch of engineer plant operations to mitigate the risk of fires being ignited from sparks.
  • The ADF continues to support civilian authorities following the Coulson C-130 Hercules Large Aerial Tanker accident near Adaminaby. JTF personnel are assisting authorities to secure the site.
  • ADF and New Zealand Defence Force helicopters are providing fire spotting and night mapping in the ACT and NSW as well as supporting movement of NSW Parks and Wildlife Service personnel.
  • The re-establishment of fencing near Wauchope is completed. Other fencing tasks are ongoing in the Richmond Valley.
  • JTF teams have completed fodder distribution for the Non-Government Organisation South Coast Rural Relief.
  • ADF teams have been supporting tasks at Tumbarumba Hospital. It has now reopened and no longer requires ADF support.
  • The 5th Combat Service Support Battalion is transporting 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.



Ongoing support

  • Bulk water continues to be delivered to 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.
  • Route clearance in support of telecommunications companies is ongoing near Eden, Belowra, Yadbro, Nerrigundah and Deua River.
  • 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.
  • ADF personnel are supporting seven Services Australia recovery centres.

Navy support

  • 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.

Air support

  • 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

Recent activity



Kangaroo Island

  • Support continues for recovery operations including clearing roads, clearing trees and debris, fixing signposts and removing damaged fences.
  • Engineers in Flinders Chase National Park have conducted assessed final tasks and continue with tree and route clearance.
  • JTF is providing support to the South Australian Country Fire Service (SA CFS) in the Blue Gums complex (Kangaroo Island) to clear log piles which continue to smoulder and could re-ignite in the hot weather.
  • 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.

Adelaide Hills

  • 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.

Ongoing support

  • 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.

Air support

  • 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.


International support

ADF efforts are supported by more than 320 international military personnel. This includes:

  • 99 Papua New Guinea Defence Force members – largely engineers – working with JTF 646 [up 1 on previous day]
  • 54 Republic of Fiji Military Force engineers working alongside ADF personnel in East Gippsland.
  • 46* New Zealand Defence Force members [down 44 on previous day]
  • 40 Republic of Singapore Air Force members
  • 71 Japan Self-Defense Force members [up 9 on previous day]
  • 10 United States Air Force members forming two cargo load teams operating from RAAF Bases Richmond and East Sale.

In addition:

  • 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 that departure by indicating that 44 NZDF were supporting Op Bushfire Assist. Without explanation, that number went back up to 90 the following day, but was reduced to 46 the day after (with engineers still listed under ‘In addition’). The New Zealand Defence Force conferment to CONTACT that there are “41 NZDF personnel as part of the ADF-led response in Nowra and four NZDF firefighters elsewhere in New South Wales” – official total 45.











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Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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