US sheriffs say two Australian firefighters were not set upon by hunters, chased and shot at during an incident in bushland in Washington state.
“It’s a misunderstanding,” Yakima County Sheriff’s office spokesman Casey Schilperoort told AAP on Wednesday morning (AEST).
A media report described how Australian firefighters on patrol with US Forest Service personnel last month in a remote area 160 kilometres from Seattle were pursued across a ridge by the hunters in a restricted area.
Sheriffs and Washington state patrol were alerted but an investigation found the firefighters were not in danger, the hunters were not pursuing them and there was “no contact between them whatsoever”.
“If they (the firefighters) felt they were in danger then that’s how they felt, but the evidence does not show they were in danger in any way other than them being completely surprised by people and gunshots,” Mr Schilperoort said.
Mr Schilperoort said the incident happened at the start of hunting season in a landscape shaped like a bowl surrounded by mountains.
The hunters’ shots would have echoed around the bowl, he said.
“I completely understand how the firefighters were surprised to see people and having five or six shots fired off in an area where they are at,” Mr Schilperoort said.
“The bowl makes the rifle shot sound all around them.”
The area was closed to hunters at the time and US Forest Service did issue the hunters with citations for violating a closure order.
Australia and the US have a highly-successful exchange program where firefighters from each nation fly in to add manpower and expertise to firefighting efforts.