Firefighter sent to Australia is the only one from Michigan at the moment

Brian Stearns, a Huron-Manistee National Forest firefighter who was sent to Australia to help fight the brushfires there, holds a young eastern grey kangaroo that a member of Stearns\' team found.

It's his turn to help the Australians.

Brian Stearns, believed to be the only firefighter from Michigan working in Australia at the moment, says he's honored to be there, as Australian firefighters have come to the United States to help during bad wildfires here.

"It's nice to return the favor," said Stearns.

Stearns, 46, from Oscoda, works for the Huron-Manistee National Forest as a wildland firefighter. He has Cadillac ties; his wife, Sunshine, is from here.

Stearns was sent by the federal government to Australia to help as the other country battles wildfires on multiple fronts.

When the Cadillac News spoke to Stearns around 9 a.m. Saturday (around 5 p.m. Friday in Cadillac), he was about to head out to "the line," which is in a rural area near Swifts Creek, Victoria, Australia.

Stearns is serving as an engine boss working along with a team of three other firefighters; two from the western United States and one local volunteer firefighter.

"We're making the best of it," he told the Cadillac News. "I just do my job every day."

The international news media report that approximately one billion animals are believed to have died in brushfires in Australia, and social media is flooded with pictures of singed koala bears drinking from water jugs, kangaroos hopping from flames.

You may have even seen Stearns' picture already: the Huron-Manistee National Forest shared a photo of Stearns holding a joey (a baby kangaroo). The animal hopped up to the local firefighter, who then let Stearns hold the male eastern grey kangaroo.

"It was definitely unexpected," Stearns says of the somewhat surreal experience.

The joey has been taken in by a local agency, Stearns said. He's also seen a wombat, an echidna, and a red-bellied black snake.

The Cadillac News asked Stearns if the international message about animals in peril is an accurate portrayal and whether locals are more worried about their homes.

Stearns said that, while he doesn't get a lot of interaction with local residents because people have evacuated, he is hearing that people are worried about their homes and natural resources. They're also concerned about next winter.

As hayfields burn, people are worried about feeding livestock in the coming winter, Stearns said.

Even under the dire circumstances, the people Stearns has interacted with "are generous and kind. Very welcoming." Schoolchildren placed thank-you notes in lunches, he said.

Stearns arrived in Australia on Jan. 1 and expects to be there through Jan. 28, he said.



Cadillac News