Op Bushfire Assist – 31 January UPDATE

Updated at 10am 1 February 2020

CAPTION: Australian Army soldiers and Australian Federal Police officers advise residents within the Tharwa, ACT, area of the evacuation alert issued because of bushfire threat. Photo by Private Rodrigo Villablanca.

RELATED STORIES: Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20

About 6600 [up 1100 on yesterday] ADF personnel are supporting Operation Bushfire Assist.

  • There is a temporary increase in numbers as part of the Reserve force transitions from compulsory to voluntary service [though the 1100 increase above is not supported by the 100 increase below][besides – how does a change in status affect total number of bodies on the ground? – unless they count transitioning people twice!]
  • Reserves: About 2500 [up 100 on yesterday]
  • International military: More than 320 (see International support for more information)



Victoria – Joint Task Force 646

Recent activity

  • The JTF is preparing for the extreme temperatures and fire threat over the weekend. Liaison officers, engineers and health teams are ready to support regional incident coordination centres during the heightened fire danger over the next 72 hours.
  • ADF and civilian assets are ready to surge at short notice if required. Interaction with local agencies continues and contingency planning has occurred in preparation.
  • 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.
  • Ausnet has now connected their own bulk fuel storage facility within Mallacoota totalling 36,000 litres. This will enable the generators there to run the town and outlying areas without ADF assistance. The ADF fuel capability is expected to withdraw from Mallacoota in the coming days.
  • 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.

Engineer support

  • JTF engineers (including from Papua New Guinea Defence Force and Fiji Military Force) continue to clear priority routes.

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 JTF 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 ACT is JTF 1110’s main effort following the declaration of a state of emergency in the territory.
  • The Commanding Officer from Engineer Task Group is working within the ACT Emergency Services Agency to coordinate ongoing engineering support.
  • Engineers are providing support to the Rural Fire Service in Queanbeyan with a grader and 5000-litre water tanker to react to spot fires south of Queanbeyan.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  •  A water tanker is refilling other tankers in support of the Rural Fire Service near Peak View. A total of approximately 60,000 litres has been delivered in the past six days.
  • Bulk fodder delivery is ongoing with 3000kgs taken to Bombala.
  • The route clearance task near Ilford was completed with approximately 70km of roads opened.
  • ADF engineers cleared the route to a key Bega telecommunications site allowing the contractor to commence repair work.
  • After five days of work, the JTF completed fence repairs and replacement at Big Yengo House in the Yengo National Park, Hunter region.
  •  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.
  • 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 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.
  • Route clearance in support of telecommunications companies is ongoing near Bega, 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 Adelaide has returned to Sydney for refit and refurbishment, but remains on reduced notice to continue to provide support if required.
  • HMAS Choules departed Sydney late on January 31 to return to support Operation Bushfire Assist. Choules is expected to be positioned offshore of the NSW south coast. The ship will be ready to assist as required if fire conditions change.

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

The JTF continues to monitor weather conditions and take preventative measures on Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills due to high rainfall and possible risk of localised flooding.

Kangaroo Island

  • Engineer plant equipment has been put in place to support the South Australian Country Fire Service in preparation for the hazardous hot weather.
  • 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.
  • The ADF is currently supporting two Services Australia recovery centres.

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.


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.

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.


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
  • 54 Republic of Fiji Military Force engineers working alongside ADF personnel in East Gippsland.
  • 46* New Zealand Defence Force members.
  • 40 Republic of Singapore Air Force members.
  • 71 Japan Self-Defense Force members.
  • 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 [went home Tuesday] 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: The New Zealand Defence Force confirmed 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 NZDF 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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