Details of how two Australian firefighters survived a harrowing 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, have been revealed in an official review of the incident.
A document obtained by the ABC details how the group, including NSW Fire and Rescue employee Inspector Phillip Eberle and NSW Rural Fire Service employee Daniel Barwick, came under fire on August 23.
They had been surveying fire-damaged forest around White Pass in the US state of Washington.
The review states: “At approximately 1500, four incident personnel spot two individuals walking down the Pacific Coast Trail approximately 200 yards below them.”
Dressed in yellow fire shirts and wearing bright yellow hard hats, the group waved at the pair to attract attention before the first shot was fired.
The US Forest Service document states: “The incident personnel watched with binoculars as one of the two individuals put a scoped rifle on a bi-pod and looked up the mountain toward them.”
A quote in the report from an unnamed lookout says: “They have a scoped rifled and are pointing it at us.”
Firefighters told to take off yellow shirts
The document says several more shots were fired, during which time the firefighters remained behind a ridge and radioed for police and back-up.
“I told everyone to take off their yellow Nomex shirts to make us less visible,” an unidentified safety officer said.
The four incident personnel could no longer see the gunmen, but heard several more shots coming from the direction that they were last seen.
The group eventually evacuated by helicopter about 6:00pm, three hours after the incident began.
NSW Fire and Rescue confirmed the incident to the ABC and praised the work of the Australians involved.
“We are confident the matter was dealt with appropriately by US authorities,” a spokesperson said.
“Support was provided to the firefighters following the incident.
“We are proud of the work Australian firefighters did to help protect communities affected by these devastating wildfires.”
The pair was among 140 Australian and New Zealand fire fighters deployed to the United States to help fight devastating wild fires that tore across the west coast of the country.
The two men returned to Australia unharmed on Saturday.
The United States Forest Service told the ABC in a statement that authorities have completed their investigations into the incident.
“Two men were located inside the fire area closure. They were shooting ground squirrels/marmots and reportedly bear hunting,” the statement read.
“They were issued violation notices by USDA Forest Service law enforcement officers for violation of the closure order.”