VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – British Columbia has sent seven provincial firefighters to Australia as part of a contingent of 22 Canadians who will help battle wildfires in the country.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says the Australian government asked the Canada Interagency Forest Fire Centre for help.
Donaldson says the BC Wildfire Service members headed to Australia are all in supervisory roles, including directors who prepare plans and oversee the allocation of heavy equipment.
“It is a big deal for people in our firefighter service to be giving up their time over Christmas with family and friends to go and help out,” Donaldson says.
The Canadian contingent is set to depart from Vancouver on Tuesday for a 38-day deployment and is expected to return Jan. 10.
Morgan Kehr, a senior member of the Canadian contingent from Edmonton, says the firefighters are missing the holiday for a reason.
“Certainly nobody wants to be away from family at this time of year, but Australia has been in Canada four times and helped us in our time of need and it’s nice to be able to reciprocate. Because we have offset fire seasons, this is one of the sacrifices the guys are taking to reciprocate with Australia.”
A lot of BC firefighters will be spending the holidays away from their family as they head down under to help fight wild fires in Australia.
Gov announcing today that 22 personnel going for 38 days. #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/zdLO7SyMub
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) December 3, 2019
He says the fires are happening so early in the Australian fire season that the country’s firefighters are already exhausted, and they need help.
Canadian crews will fly to Sydney and initially work in the state of New South Wales, but Donaldson says it’s possible more will be sent to Australia in the coming months.
“It’s also recognition and a reciprocity that the Australian sent crews here in 2017 and 2018 when we really needed help,” he says.
Patrick McIlwaine, also from Edmonton, says he talked over the decision to leave his one-year-old daughter over the holidays with his wife.
“It’s a pros and cons list. Australia has been out here to assist us a number of times and we like to repay the favour. It’s really good for our organization as well to have our staff learn and see how other agencies do it.”
He’ll be fighting the fire from the air, and says he loves his job and wants to do what he’s been trained to do.
“Internationally, it’s actually quite a small community. You want to go help out your counterparts when they’re tired and in need. So that’s what we do.”
With files from the Canadian Press