Two Australian firefighters, aiding US Forest Service personnel near White Pass ski area in Washington state, were allegedly chased by bear hunters and shot at in an incident which has grabbed the attention of officials within the Foreign Affairs Department. The incident, which involved two Australians and two local officers, ultimately led to the arrest of two hunters who were issued Violation Notices by USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers for violation of the closure order.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday that the Australian firefighters survived a traumatic three-hour ordeal, during which they were forced to take cover from two shooters who pointed their scoped rifles in their direction and opened fire multiple times. It’s understood that the hunters pursued the four across a ridge, despite being warned they were in a restricted area and should leave. One of the local officers is understood to have used his phone to record a last message to his family, so concerned was he about the two hunters in pursuit. However, all four managed to find cover and were later safely airlifted out of the area.
“They have a scoped rifled and are pointing it at us.”
Nearly 80 Australian firefighters have been working with the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in northern California, Oregon and Washington since July, and were dispatched to the popular White Pass ski destination in August after a fire spread across an three square mile area. The remote area, 100-miles from Seattle, is close to land in Oregon where armed anti-government activists seized and occupied the wildlife refuge headquarters for more than a month.
One of the Australian firefighters was the highly-experienced Daniel Barwick, an RFS volunteer who last year was awarded a National Medal for protecting the Lake George area, near Canberra, Australia.
“We are aware of the incident which occurred in August involving one of our firefighters, and we are happy the matter was dealt with by authorities in-country,” an RFS spokesman told Fairfax Media.
While it is legal to hunt bears in Washington state it was very unusual to be hunting during wildfires, especially when the area was closed off to the public.