108 Mexican firefighters 'eager to start' on B.C. wildfire efforts
44 Mexican firefighters landed in Kamloops on Friday, expected to stay in B.C. for six weeks
When a military transport landed in Kamloops on Friday, the 44 Mexican firefighters on board could barely make out the city through the thick smoke.
"This is the first time we saw this quantity of smoke," Juan Villa, the group's spokesman, said shortly after disembarking the flight.
Villa's time in Kamloops was brief.
After being outfitted with vehicles, radio and equipment, he joined the fleet of 108 Mexican firefighters currently battling some of the toughest fires in the ravaged Cariboo region.
It's the province's first-ever deployment from Mexico, underscoring the intensity of the 100-plus wildfires that have strained the roughly 1,000 B.C. firefighters battling the blazes.
As of Tuesday, about 3,700 personnel, including firefighters and support staff, are involved in the wildfire effort. More than 800 of them are from out of province.
The Elephant Hill wildfire, which has burned 110,000 hectares, has drawn 414 firefighters alone.
"It means a lot that we can get this kind of support and that people are willing to travel across the world to assist," said chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek.
'Fire is the same in all the world'
The firefighters, who come from the National Forestry Commission of Mexico, are expected to stay in B.C. for six weeks.
Typically, out-of-province firefighters stay for two weeks. But the Mexican firefighters intend to work two-week periods with breaks in between.
"Just because they've come so far to get here, we might as well hang on to them a little longer," Skrepnek said.
Villa, who's also the fire management and operations deputy in Mexico, said his family is worried but proud of his work.
"In Mexico, all the people are very interested to know how is the experience here for the Mexicans in another country," he said.
B.C.'s vegetation is different than Mexico's, he noted, but the firefighting techniques remain the same.
"We know that fire is the same in all the world."
Coming back to help
A number of the Mexican firefighters deployed to B.C. also battled the massive Fort McMurray wildlife last summer.
Hector Trejo said there was excitement among the returnees.
"We're eager to start," he said. "We can expect a lot of intensities in the fire. We just hope to fight safe and help out with you guys."
Baruk Maldonado acknowledged the crew would have to be cautious when working.
"It's a tough situation, because we're in another country with different behaviours," he said. "But we have experience. We have a lot of preparations for this."
New Zealand, Australia and the United States are also expected to deploy firefighting staff over the next week.
"Given the unprecedented nature of the B.C. wildfires, we appreciate the assistance our international partners are able to provide," Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said in a statement.
With files from Jenifer Norwell and CBC's Daybreak Kamloops