Coloradans helping fight devastating brush fires in Australia

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DENVER -- Coloradans are heading to Australia to help combat the historic wildfires torching much of the country.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Forest Service says 74 firefighters have already gone to Australia as part of an interagency response. Eight are from Colorado.

"We are sending the very best that we have to help fight the fires and suppress the fires that they have there," said Vanessa Lacayo with the U.S. Forest Service.

Lacayo says the firefighters are spread across New South Wales and Victoria and are filling roles from general command to aviation specialists. They're working in 30-35 day rotations and it's possible more firefighters could follow.

"It's been really concerning. It's quite shocking and you feel helpless here," said James Waddell, Honorary Consul for Australia.

Waddell came to Denver from Melbourne 15 years ago but still calls Australia 'home.' He says watching the destruction unfold from nearly 9,000 miles away is difficult.

"I just saw some picture on Facebook of a family I know who live near Wollongong and it's like they're on Mars. Their place is not on fire but you can see the orange and the smoke. They're all being affected," said Waddell.

Waddell says the areas that are hardest hit are primarily dry and desolate. He says the record-high heat has helped fuel the unprecedented wildfires.

"If a fire starts in a remote area it can gather heat and power very quickly because it can go for days without anybody being near it," said Waddell.

Millions of acres have burned and more than 20 people have died in the fires. One estimate shows about half a billion animals have died in New South Wales.

For those who wish to donate to relief efforts in Australia, Waddell recommends using the Australian Red Cross.

The local group "Aus Denver" is hosting an event for Australia Day Jan. 25 that will double as a fundraiser for relief efforts. The event runs from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Casey's Pub in Stapleton. All are welcome to attend.

Rachel Skytta wrote this report.

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