Australians join the fight against B.C. wildfires

Aus FirefightersA contingent of over 70 Australian firefighters were flown to Canada to assist local fire service personnel in the battle against the many devastating wildfires that swept across B.C this summer.

Gil Marshall, deputy chief fire officer in Victoria, Australia, served as the Australian liaison for the operation, alongside assistant liaison Elspeth De Fanti. Marshall and De Fanti visited Sun Peaks in mid-August to meet with some Australian firefighters who were staying in the community while assisting with fires in the Kamloops Fire Centre.

Marshall said around 75 Australian firefighters were flown into B.C. for a 35 day deployment.

“They’re all high level specialist type roles, including fire behaviour analysts, incident controllers, planners (responsible for weather forecasting and advance preparations), and operations,” he explained.

Two 10-man teams were first to arrive, flying in to Vancouver before being driven to Chilliwack for a short briefing and catch up on some sleep before getting into the action. 72 hours later, the teams’ mission was to take charge of their own fires near Prince George.

“There’s no mucking about,” Marshall said. “These are very serious fires.”

According to Marshall, a group of around seven Australians were assisting with fires in the Kamloops Fire Centre, while the other firefighters remained in Chilliwack until their deployment to fires in B.C.

“They’re likely to go up near Prince George as well. We try and keep out of province firefighters together,” said Marshall “These are minimum 12 hour days. Sometimes 14 or 16 hour days, for 14 day shifts. When resources are stretched thin . . . it’s very important to manage that fatigue.”

Similar firefighting techniques are implemented in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, making the transition fairly straightforward.

“The critical thing is they all operate the same way. You can come into the role here and pick up a bit of local knowledge and fit into the role,” said Marshall.

Sharing fire knowledge and tactics between the countries is important, with factors such as geography and weather patterns playing an important role in fighting wildfires.

“Canada does have different fire behaviour patterns than Australia,” Marshall said. “Different fuel types in Canada, like dead pine, can create an incredibly flammable fuel source. It’s massively more flammable than its live state.”

While the crews will be kept busy, Marshall said they were hoping to have the opportunity to see the sights in between shifts.

“I think they’ll be keen to get out on their days off and be tourists. We try and host them somewhere nice, like Sun Peaks, so they can enjoy their time here.”

Information on current wildfire conditions can be found at BC Wildfire.