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Aussie PM Thanks USDA, Interior for Wildfire Help

By Ed O'Keefe

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (center) is joined by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (center left) and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (center right) at an event at USDA headquarters on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd thanked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Thursday afternoon for U.S. firefighting assistance during last month's "Black Saturday" wildfires in the Australian province of Victoria. The blazes killed more than 200 people, displaced more than 10,000 and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Thirty-eight USDA employees and 35 Interior Department employees provided assistance to the Australians. One 13-member Burned Area Emergency Response team remains there and will return home in early April. The Department of Defense also provided aerial transportation of 50 tons of fire retardant from Travis Air Force Base in California.

U.S. and Australian firefighters have provided mutual wildfire support since signing a 2001 agreement. Australia provided wildfire assistance in 2002, 2003 and 2006 while the U.S. returned the favor in 2003, 2007 and this year. USDA's Forest Service has similar firefighting assistance agreements with nations including Greece, Mexico and Indonesia. The federal government deploys federal firefighting teams for international missions from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Rudd also met with President Obama and Congressional leaders during his visit to Washington. He heads to London next week for the G-20 meetings.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | March 27, 2009; 1:08 PM ET
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Ideologically rigid politicians seem to have dominated the news over the last several decades and hearing an intelligent, thoughtful, literate and moderate voice was really refreshing. I hope Kevin Rudd is around for a long long time. I encourage people to listen to this man when he speaks.

Posted by: tryreason | March 30, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

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