Lake Tahoe fire captain Soldavini returns, revisits his time in Australia
Special to the Sierra Sun
Fires continue to rage in Australia but Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Captain Dave Soldavini has returned home from his time Down Under.
Soldavini was part of a 44-member firefighter group that was deployed to Australia on Dec. 30.
After a month of helping in West Gippsland in the Victoria State of Australia, Soldavini is back in Tahoe.
The fires in Australia have been raging for about 80 days and have devastated areas of the country.
“A lot happened in the 30 days,” Soldavini said. “I used almost every skill I’ve developed over the 20-plus years as a wildland firefighter. It was really challenging in that way but it was also really rewarding.”
But for Soldavini, what stands out the most is the people he met during his time there.
“I got to meet a wide range of people at all different levels both in fire and in the public and government, and the people I met were just amazing,” Soldavini said. “The caring for each other, the support for each other and the appreciation for us going over there was really genuine and heartfelt. Some of the people I worked with were just some of the most amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”
For example, a group of American firefighters had discovered homeowners who had adopted a kangaroo that had severe burns on its forelegs. The crew Soldavini was working with spent their own money to get more medical supplies to the family and reached out to friends and family in the states to get information on how the family could care for the kangaroo.
“It was nice to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with people with that degree of compassion and kindness,” Soldavini.
A picture of Soldavini holding a joey, a baby kangaroo, became popular in the states. It was so popular that a Wisconsin artist, Tara Buehler, painted that picture and auctioned it off at a fundraiser to support people affected by the fires.
The fundraiser raised $2,000.
The original picture was taken on Soldavini’s first day on the fire. A community had been isolated so the crew went out to clear the roads into the town.
The joey, who was all alone, started following the crew around. A member helping the crew knew of a police officer housing hurt or abandoned kangaroos and agreed to take on this joey.
“It was a neat experience,” Soldavini said. “The first day in the country and all of the sudden here’s this absolutely adorable, frightened little creature that gets thrown in my arms. You could tell through empathy, this thing realized it was safe and things were going to be okay. It just really seemed like it wanted to take a nap and relax.”
Much of the American media has focused on mistakes made by the Australian government but Soldavini said his focus wasn’t on politics but just fighting the fire.
“When you’re on fire, you focus on the situation at hand and so political stuff, large scale things outside of your sphere of influence become just superficial background noise,” Soldavini said.
One thing Soldavini did stress was that Australia’s normal fire season lasts until about March so it might be a few more weeks until they get relief from the fire.
“People are just exhausted and it’s a traumatic experience to go through,” Soldavini said. “You know, the American effort of going over there and helping out, a lot of what we did was just giving people time to start to recover from that.”
According to Lisa Herron, Public Affairs Specialists for the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, 26 operations, plans and aviation management specialists were sent to New South Wales on Feb. 7.
Two incident management teams left for Victoria on Feb. 9.
Crews from the Rocky Mountains and Northern California are being assembled to depart Feb. 19 and crews from the Great Basin Geographic areas will depart on Feb. 22.
To date, the Forest Service has provided a total of 244 personnel to this effort. The U.S. has been coordinating with Canadians partners so between the two counties, 500 total personnel have gone.
“Australia expects elevated fire activity through the month of February and expresses their sincere gratitude for the support that we are providing,” Herron said.
Laney Griffo is a reporter with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com
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