Hundreds of British firefighters sign up to battle hellish Australian bushfires in huge campaign backed by Hampshire Fire Brigades Union

FIREFIGHTERS stand willing and ready to battle a catastrophic series of bushfires ravaging Australia, Hampshire Fire Brigade Union’s boss has said.

Monday, 6th January 2020, 1:01 pm
Updated Monday, 6th January 2020, 5:17 pm

Mark Chapman, chairman of the county’s union, which represents 1,300 firefighters, demanded urgent action from the government to help his ‘Australian brothers and sisters’.

It comes as deadly infernos continue to devastate huge swathes of Australia, killing at least 24 people since September.

Now, an army of more than 600 firefighters from all parts of the UK, including Hampshire, have volunteered to help – but first need the nod from the government.

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Mark Chapman brigade chairman of the Hampshire Fire Brigades Union

Mr Chapman, who lives in Portsmouth and has been a firefighter for 19 years, said: ‘Australia is facing an unprecedented challenge fighting fires on a scale that has never been seen before.

‘The response from UK firefighters has been phenomenal. There has been no hesitation in firefighters stepping forward, evidenced by over 600 agreeing to volunteer within 48 hours.’

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Mr Chapman added the army of volunteers could provide both logistical support and vital relief for their exhausted Australian counterparts.

Flames illuminate the sky over a property in Colo Heights, Australia. Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

However, the 41-year-old said it was ‘disappointing’ the British government had not offered any ‘credible support’ to Australia.

‘Unfortunately it looks like firefighters will again be stepping up where the government fails to act,’ Mr Chapman added.

Fires have so far engulfed about six million hectares – almost three times the size of Wales – of bush, forest and parks.

Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1,365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

A staggering 500 million animals are estimated to have been killed in the infernos.

Portsmouth North MP Ms Mordaunt said the Australian teams were now ‘exhausted’ and insisted the UK had plenty to offer.

‘We have that expertise in our fire service and I’m not surprised that so many UK firefighters want to volunteer to help,’ she said.

‘They do work overseas in disaster situations. They also train alongside a network of 60 UK organisations here in Portsmouth, who could also be helpful.

‘This includes veterinary care, mapping, planning and communications and many other skills in need. To everyone stepping up I say a huge thank you.’

Last night Australian prime minister Scott Morrison pledged $2bn (£1.1bn) towards a recovery programme over the next two years.

It came after he announced the largest military call-up in the country's recent history, mobilising up to 3,000 reservists to assist exhausted volunteer firefighters.

The Australian navy has already been called in to help evacuate more than 1,000 people trapped in the fire-ravaged town of Mallacoota on the Victoria coast, east of Melbourne.

The News has approached the government for comment.