News outlets in Australia reported earlier this week that Australian firefighters helping fight wildfires in Washington state were pursued and shot at by hunters, a story that then got picked up worldwide. However, it turns out this might not be entirely true, and just a misunderstanding.
“It’s a misunderstanding,” County Sheriff’s office spokesman Casey Schilperoort said on Tuesday.
A newspaper report described how Australian firefighters aiding US Forest Service personnel last month in a remote area near White Pass ski area were chased across a ridge by the hunters. Sheriffs and Washington state patrol were alerted but an investigation found the firefighters were not in danger, the hunters were not pursuing them, there was no evidence of malicious intent, and there was “no contact between them whatsoever”.
The restricted area was closed to hunters at the time and the US Forest Service did issue the hunters with citations for violating a closure order. Firefighting in the area was temporarily halted when gunfire was heard on the afternoon of Aug. 23, and 14 US and Australian firefighters were evacuated to the nearby ski lodge. No one was injured, but there were some tense moments when firefighting teams initially thought that there might be an active shooter.
At around 1:30 pm, firefighters heard what some thought was a gunshot, then about an hour and a half later, spotted two people just below them. The firefighters stood up and started to shout, and thought they had made their location clear, according to the report. But then they watched as one of the hunters put a scoped rifle on a bipod and appeared to look up at the mountain toward them. A shot was fired, prompting the firefighters to flee from the backside of the mountain. As more shots were fired firefighters were evacuated by helicopters as concerns about the shooter prompted a lockdown at the ski lodge that served as the fire’s incident command post, according to a report.
Federal law-enforcement officials investigated the hunters, who said they were shooting ground squirrels and marmots and also were bear hunting.