Primary producer grants extended and more accessible. Learn more.

Operation Bushfire Assist

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Providing direct support to the bushfire crisis is the Australian Defence Force’s main effort.

ADF support will continue for as long as needed.

Around 6,400 ADF personnel are supporting Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST.

Personnel numbers

Reserves: Approximately 2,500

International military: Over 350 (see International support for more information)

Call Out arrangements

The Government has announced it will ask the Governor-General to revoke the compulsory Call Out of the ADF Reserves with effect 7 February 2020.

This will be a gradual draw-down of Reserves who were part of the compulsory Call Out.

The ADF will continue to directly support bushfire affected communities with its full time forces and volunteer Reserves.

As conditions have changed, the ADF’s focus is moving from immediate emergency support to save life and property, to longer-term support to help communities recover and rebuild.

ADF Support

The ADF is working with local and state authorities to determine where support is most needed.

Current efforts are focused on assisting state authorities to reopen roads, restore essential services and deliver emergency food, water and fodder to affected communities.

Major General Justin ‘Jake’ Ellwood, DSC is the Emergency ADF National Support Coordinator, working in support of state and territory authorities.

The ADF’s efforts are being co-ordinated through three Joint Task Forces (JTF).

Victoria (JTF 646)

Recent activity

  • The JTF is stepping-up route clearance efforts. Combienbar, Bonang and the Princes Highway remain priority routes for clearance.
  • The ADF continues to support the return of evacuees to Mallacoota, working closely with the Victorian Police to return evacuated residents.
    • Temporary permits are being issued by the Victoria Police to evacuees for travel to and from Mallacoota, with further road closures expected to complete road clearances.
    • 237 evacuees have been returned, including by C-27 Spartan and C-130 Hercules aircraft.
  • ADF personnel, including an Unmanned Aerial System and a Defence-contracted search-and-rescue helicopter, assisted local police in their search for a missing four-year old boy near Waterhole in East Gippsland. The boy was found and reunited with his family.

Ongoing support

  • Carcass disposal in support of local councils in the eastern Alpine region continues.
  • Fodder drops are continuing to areas of need.
  • JTF 646 is providing logistics and transport assistance to Emergency Services in Tallangatta and Corryong.
  • Support is being provided to evacuee camps, Department of Human Services (DHS) recovery centres and emergency service personnel.
  • Air support. Two Australian and two Singaporean CH-47 Chinook helicopters are operating from RAAF Base East Sale to support firefighting operations and provide humanitarian assistance to remote and isolated communities. Other ADF aircraft are providing support as needed from around the country.
  • Health and Pastoral support. Air Force is operating a medical facility at RAAF Base East Sale and providing pastoral care to support JTF operations. Each JTF is staffed with appropriately credentialed mental health professionals. 
  • UAS support. A Small Unmanned Aerial System (SUAS) (Wasp) is based at RAAF Base East Sale to conduct ISR operations in support of JTF646.

New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory (JTF 1110)

Recent Activity

  • ADF members are helping to deliver 45 tonnes of fodder on behalf of Non-Government Organisation, South Coast Rural Relief.
  • The 5th Combat Service Support Battalion began transporting 25 tonnes of donated fodder to farmers in Bodalla.
  • ADF teams are also helping to recover burnt vehicles in Bombala.
  • Bulk water has been delivered in Numeralla (near Cooma).
  • ADF personnel door knocked houses in Tharwa, ACT, to let residents know about the Watch and Act fire in the Orroral Valley (Namadgi National Park), and the possible need to evacuate.
  • Two New Zealand Defence Force NH90 helicopters provided aerial surveillance in south west ACT. Combined Army and Rural Fire Service teams were deployed for Helicopter Landing Zone clearance tasks in the area.
  • ADF Veterinarian support will be provided to the Numeralla Koala Sanctuary in Cooma on 28 January.
  • The ADF continues to support civilian authorities following the Coulson C-130 Hercules Large Aerial Tanker accident near Adaminaby.
  • Support continues to assist the ACT Emergency Services Agency to develop firebreaks around HMAS Harman (near Queanbeyan).  

Ongoing support

  • Route clearance continues in the Blue Mountains, Clarence Valley, Ilford, Wollemi, Wingecarribee and Nana Glen.
  • Teams are assisting with route clearance and fence replacement in Bega, Eden and Biamanga National Park.
  • Engineers are felling burned and hazardous trees in Batlow, Tumbarumba, Munderoo and Courabyra Rd (South West Slopes).
  • The JTF continues to assist with bulk fodder distribution.
  • Route clearance, fodder distribution and delivery of clean water continues throughout areas of need.
  • A health team and Army veterinarian are assessing environmental health and animal issues in Batemans Bay, Bega, Cooma and Tumbarumba.
  • JTF 1110 continues to support catering efforts, providing 500 meals a day to civil and military personnel at the Bega Evacuation Centre.
  • Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) personnel are working in Tumut, Taree, Nowra, Cooma, Bombala, Bega, Richmond and Canberra.
  • ADF Chaplains are operating in Bega, Cobargo, Cooma, Eden, Singleton, Tumbarumba, Batlow and Kiah. An ADF Aboriginal Liaison officer is conducting community engagement and liaison with Aboriginal Land Councils within Eurobodalla.
  • Primary health care team support is being provided in Tumbarumba, Bega, Braidwood, Bucketty and at HMAS Albatross.
  • Accommodation and meals are being provided to emergency services personnel from HMAS Albatross.
  • Navy support: HMAS Choules and HMAS Adelaide have returned to Sydney for refit and refurbishment, but remain on reduced notice to continue to provide support if required.
  • Air support: MRH-90 Taipan, MH-60R Seahawk and EC-135 helicopters are conducting fire mapping, surveillance, and search and rescue support operations supporting New South Wales RFS throughout the Hunter, Greater Sydney, Illawarra, Australian Capital Territory and southern regions.

South Australia and Tasmania (JTF 1111)

Recent activity

  • Kangaroo Island: Support continues for recovery operations including clearing roads, clearing trees and debris, fixing signposts and removing damaged fences.
  • Within the JTF, there is a focus on fatigue management of ADF personnel.
  • Teams are recommencing chainsaw tasks, focussing on any outstanding requests for support.
  • The JTF continues to support civilian agencies on Kangaroo Island with catering and environmental health support.
  • ADF personnel helped to install contracted demountable shower and laundry facilities on 26 January.
  • ADF Teams are supporting the State Emergency Service and National Parks with infrastructure repairs in Parndana and Vivonne Bay.
  • ADF teams delivered hay in response to an immediate need from landholders.
  • The JTF is also helping local farmers to clear routes and boundary fences.
  • Adelaide Hills: Teams are assisting with local infrastructure support and clean-up of fire damage.
  • Bulk water and environmental health support to local communities is ongoing.
  • Engineer support is focusing on infrastructure repair and route clearance, as well as water distribution.

Ongoing support

  • ADF personnel continue to work with the Lobethal Recovery Centre, which is providing emergency relief and support to residents in the Adelaide Hills and Cudlee Creek areas.
  • Water treatment and delivery is ongoing. The ADF water purification team has so far produced almost 2.4 million litres of clean water for Kangaroo Island, with the priority of support to high-risk farmers.
  • JTF1111 continues to support SA Water, SA Health, State Emergency Service (SES), National Parks Service and Country Fire Service (CFS) infrastructure.
  • An Australian Army catering detachment is helping to feed personnel conducting support tasks on Kangaroo Island.
  • Soldiers and chaplains are supporting vulnerable or at-risk members of the community, including farmers and vineyard owners.
  • Air support. P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft continues to conduct reconnaissance flights over fire-affected areas in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. This aircraft is operating from RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia.


  • There are three Joint Task Forces co-ordinating the ADF’s effort:
    • JTF 646 Victoria: Based on Army’s 4th Brigade, with support elements from across the ADF. RAAF Base East Sale is the central hub for the Defence response in southern areas.
    • JTF 1110 New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory: Based on Army’s 5th Brigade, with support elements from across the ADF. Holsworthy Barracks is the central hub for the Defence response across NSW and the ACT.
    • JTF 1111 South Australia and Tasmania: Based on Army’s 9th Brigade, with support elements from across the ADF. Keswick Barracks is the central hub for the Defence response across South Australia and Tasmania.
  • Defence is also providing assistance to emergency services personnel in Western Australia in support of firefighting efforts.

Reserve Call Out Arrangements

  • The Call Out of Reserves for this bushfire crisis was authorised by the Governor-General on 4 January 2020.
  • The Governor-General has revoked this order with effect 7 February 2020, based on the ADF’s transition from emergency support, to relief and recovery operations.
  • ADF support includes full time and Reserve members from the following:
    • 1st, 3rd, 6th, 7th and 17th Sustainment Brigades
    • 2nd Division, specifically the 4th, 5th and 9th Brigades.
  • The Call Out – which has involved around 3,000 Reservists – commenced progressively from 5 January 2020.

International Assistance

ADF efforts are supported by over 350 international military personnel.

This includes:

  • 99 Papua New Guinea Defence Force members – largely engineers – working with JTF 646
  • 54 Republic of Fiji Military Force engineers who are working alongside ADF personnel in East Gippsland
  • 87 New Zealand Defence Force members
  • 57 Republic of Singapore Air Force members
  • 80 Japan Self-Defense Force members
  • 10 United States Air Force members forming two cargo load teams operating from RAAF Bases Richmond and East Sale

In addition:

  • the New Zealand Defence Force has provided engineering support and three NH-90 helicopters
  • the Singapore Armed Forces has provided two CH-47 helicopters
  • the Government of Japan has provided two C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Defence Base Support

  • RAAF Base East Sale is supporting Defence aircraft providing emergency response.
  • RAAF Base Richmond and RAAF Base Edinburgh are providing airbase access and support for Large Air Tanker and spotter aircraft.
  • RAAF Base Wagga is providing refuelling support.
  • HMAS Albatross is providing accommodation and meals for RFS personnel.
  • Marrangaroo Training Area has area has been made available for RFS operations.