Australian firefighters bring experience to the B.C. wildfire battle

Australian officers and technicians join wildfire battle across B.C.

A group of 53 Australian firefighting specialists touched down in B.C. Thursday at the Pacific Regional Training Centre in Chilliwack before heading out to fight wildfires across B.C.

There are an estimated 140 fires still burning, according to the BC Wildfire Service, and more than 35,000 people were out of their homes as of Wednesday.

The actual trees and bears in B.C. may be quite different from what they’re used to, but the Australians deal with similar types of fuel loads and wind-driven wildfire situations, said Barry Scott, an aerial operations branch director from Australia.

“Australia is a very fire prone environment,” Scott said, especially in Southeastern Australia with its forests of eucalyptus, which can be a volatile fuel, causing intense fires.

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They have tons of experience fighting forest fires and the extreme fire weather that comes with it, he said.

“So that allows us to work in very similar sorts of environments in terms of fire loads, not necessarily in terms of tree types because they are different, but management in terms of incident control is very similar,” Scott said.

Their skill sets are very similar, and the command structure used in Canada to fight forest fires is almost the same.

The specialists are from various jurisdictions in Australia, and are lending a hand as part of a longstanding agreement they have with B.C. and with Canada as well, said Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer for BC Wildfire Service.

The personnel who’ve flown into B.C. this week are not front-line firefighters but specialists with ample experience.

“A lot of the roles are hard to come by in Canada,” Skrepnek said. “So they will be of great assistance.”

Two teams of about 10 Aussies each will be assigned to specific fires in Quesnel and Princeton. Another 30 are “single resources” or experts that will be embedded with B.C. crews across the province.

The rain Thursday could make a slight difference.

“Today there has been a little bit of rain that has come through,” noted Scott. “It will be potentially patchy over the different fire grounds. But where it’s fallen it will actually give some sort of a short reprieve for the firefighters. It will help them potentially consolidate some of their lines, reduce the fire behaviour and intensities.”

The Australians will be helping with logistics, aerial equipment, and technology.

A “range of specialists” are part of the Australian contingent as incident controllers, fire behaviourists, planning chiefs, operations chiefs, air branch directors, logistics specialists and as well as support people, like liaisons who work in the field, and two people in Winnipeg coordinating the deployment with Canadians, added Scott.


 

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(Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Kevin Skrepnek (left) with BC Wildfire Service chats with a team of Australian firefighting specialists who are in B.C. to help with the province’s wildfires. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Wayne Riggs (right) and Paul Simakoff-Ellims are part of an Australian firefighting specialist team who are in B.C. to help with the province’s wildfires. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Supt. Paul Jones speaks with media on Thursday. He is part of a firefighting specialist team from Australia that has arrived in B.C. to help with the province’s wildfires. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Firefighting specialists from Australia have arrived in B.C. to help with the province’s wildfires. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Firefighting specialists from Australia have arrived in B.C. to help with the province’s wildfires. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

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