Defence Bushfire Briefing
7 January 2020
ELLWOOD: Hi. So, I'm Major General Jake Ellwood. I'm the National Emergency Coordinator for ADF support to the bushfires and this afternoon, I'll give you a briefing on where we are.
So firstly, this morning I went out to Eden and Merimbula. It was a very useful visit. You get a chance to see the ground and actually to meet people. As always, exceptionally impressed with our emergency management services. They're doing such wonderful work and our volunteers are just something to behold and I've absolute admiration for them.
At Merimbula, I went out to the evacuation centre there, where the evacuation centre in its height had swelled to 900 and the team had worked exceptionally
hard to make it happen and then going to Eden to the Country Women's Association run evacuation centre there, again, you couldn't ask for people more committed to helping Australians, which is just admirable.
It was a really good visit, as well, because it gave me an opportunity to see the ground and to speak to people and to see where there were opportunities and issues that we can support and so I've provided that direction to my JTF commanders.
As you would know, there are now fires in the southwest of the ACT, the joint task force in New South Wales has linked up with the ACT emergency services to make sure we're on standby to provide whatever support they may require in due course.
We are moving out far and wide with our support teams to make sure that we're engaging with communities and we need to do that to make sure we understand what the needs are of people out there and so that is happening as we speak.
I'm also now in the process of standing up to two teams based out of Nowra and Sale that will be able to operate as air mobile teams. I'm doing that because we will have to consider that there have been towns that have been cut off for a time and I want to make sure that we have elements that can quickly respond to needs so those elements will be based at those areas co-located with our helicopters.
Pleased to report that the water purification unit that we plan to move to Kangaroo Island will be there this evening and it will be operational tomorrow and it will be able to put out around about 250,000L of water per day.
The extraction of Mallacoota is going on this afternoon. We are expecting around about 300 to 360 people to be evacuated and Choules will depart for Western Port at around about 1700 hours this evening. I suspect and I will preempt a potential question of "will there be any more?" There may be. That is OK. We will have rotor wing helicopters on standby as well as we are doing now, use the Choules because, understandably, people, their circumstances change or individuals may come from areas that have been isolated and so we're just ready to respond to whatever is required.
I know we've had some issues, there have been issues flying in elements, so we can fly out of our bases at times with our helicopters but actually landing in areas has been difficult sometimes due to smoke so I've told our joint task forces to make sure that they look at the option of placing those teams that they're transporting to the amphibious ships and then putting them ashore by beach and then we can transport them in by land from there so that we can get as many people into the fight as possible.
We will have a we have a UAV detachment that is arriving in Sale today and that will assist the emergency services in doing their ongoing assessments of damage in the different regions and so that will be at their disposal as they require. We will have our fourth CH47 Chinook in Sale this evening. I'm pleased to report that the Singaporeans are going to provide their two Chinooks will be operational from tomorrow out of East Sale which will be a really welcome addition for us and three New Zealand helicopters will arrive in Richmond today and they should be operational by tomorrow out of Nowra.
In terms of numbers for reserves, for those who were at yesterday's briefing, you would have heard the number 497. I can now report that we have swelled to just over 1,000. If you had have asked me about an hour ago I would have said 917 but we've gone to pass the thousand which is great news and that continues to grow and you would have seen media reports about 400 personnel moving south from our 7th Brigade based out of Enoggera Barracks in Brisbane and they will move down to both task forces in New South Wales and Victoria to provide them with additional logistics support and engineering support.
So they are the key updates for today. I'm more than happy to take any questions you may have.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how much bottled water has arrived on Kangaroo Island?
ELLWOOD: So, for memory, there was 60,000L of bottled water that was provided, I think two days ago, in preparation but that was just to make sure that there was enough if there was any gap but pleasingly we're going to get the
purification unit there in time.
QUESTION: With regards to the firebreak and root clearing activities that have been happening in New South Wales, can you give an update on that, particularly around Maitland?
ELLWOOD: Look, I can't give you an update on that at the moment. What I can tell you is that we are linked now, I have the joint task force linked with the emergency services and again, we will be on standby. If they require additional plant, we will provide additional plant. So I think they're still, they’re looking. I'm not aware of any requests that's come to us just yet.
QUESTION: Any idea what the New Zealand helicopters might be used for once they're based in Nowra?
ELLWOOD: Absolutely. Very much like all of our helicopters, they will be transporting both logistics, so supplies and also personnel, moving emergency services. There's a whole host of tasks. They are very handy.
QUESTION: And with regards to HMAS Adelaide, has there been has there been much movement of supplies and things ashore since yesterday?
ELLWOOD: So there hasn't been a lot of movement there hasn't been movement of supplies today but what now I think we're in a position where we can start moving asset ashore because obviously it was waiting on standby for potential evacuations and now I've directed to make sure that we get asset ashore to provide additional support.
QUESTION: With regards to the reservists (indistinct), I know they get integrated with the rest of the ADF but any indication of what activities they're predominantly doing or States or areas they're predominantly working in?
ELLWOOD: So they're predominantly coming from the States where the operation are occurring, so New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Now, in terms of the taskings that they will be undertaking, so I've said to several people before that if I've been in the Army for just over 30 years and if I had a Reservist and a full time soldier standing side by side, to this day I still couldn't tell you the difference so they all provide similar types of capabilities. We have regular engineers, we have Reserve engineers, we have regular infantry, we have Reserve infantry, regular logisticians, Reserve logisticians; so they will just go to the task that is needed at the time and I've got to say it is just a wonderful thing to have. I met some today from 4th/19th who were chewing at the bit. I watched orders being given the other day when I was in Holsworthy Barracks where a set of orders was being given by Reserve forces and they were just so keen to get in and help our fellow Australians.
QUESTION: One specific area that has been mentioned a couple of days ago was that there were veterinarians within the Reservists who put their hand up to help with the wildlife care. Can you speak to that at all?
ELLWOOD: So, I'm aware that the veterinarians have reached out and I suspect we'll be taking that reach. As you know, there are a number of issues in terms of livestock at the moment so, yes, I think we will be more than happy to
take their support, absolutely.
QUESTION: Given the resources and the personnel you're committing to this effort, is it spreading the ADF thin anywhere else in the world?
ELLWOOD: Look, to be honest, I'm focused very much on the bushfires and I have been given significant asset to achieve what I need to achieve but I know that the ADF always postures itself to make sure that it can conduct the
operations it requires to do and it ensures that it is able and ready to respond to other contingencies should they arise.
QUESTION: Has Tasmania reached out about any requests at this stage?
ELLWOOD: No, not at this stage but what I can say is that the joint task force commander in South Australia has now linked up with the emergency management and leadership in Tasmania to make sure that if there's a need we
will be there.
QUESTION: Do you know the up to date livestock losses across the country?
ELLWOOD: No, I don't, I'm sorry. Great. No other questions? Thank you.