British Columbia

More than 200 B.C. firefighters heading south to battle Oregon wildfires

The crews are among 800 personnel who volunteered to head to the U.S. state, where fires have so far killed at least eight people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

Crews were chosen after more than 800 personnel volunteered to help U.S. state

Four firefighters from the BC Wildfire Service pose for a photo before their deployment to Oregon. Around 200 personnel from B.C. are heading south to help fight deadly wildfires in Oregon, which have so far killed eight people and destroyed more than 1,000 properties. (Twitter/B.C. Wildfire Service)

More than 200 firefighting personnel from B.C. are travelling to the United States to help fight extreme, deadly wildfires in Oregon.

The province said Thursday crews are being deployed to Redmond, Ore., a city southeast of Portland. The crews are among 800 personnel who volunteered to head south to the state, where fires have so far killed at least eight people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

"That is just extraordinary, and it speaks volumes about our compassion and our commitment to helping each other. I'm very proud of those individuals," Premier John Horgan said of the crews' decision to volunteer.

Gusting winds and low humidity Wednesday urged on blazes in Oregon, which have scorched more than 4,000 square kilometres to date this year.

Smoke from what officials and political leaders say is the worst wildfire season in recent memory has blanketed the continent, fouling air quality across B.C. for days.

The crisis is also taxing available resources at a time when the region's fire season is only half over and the COVID-19 pandemic has exerted unprecedented pressure on governments, agencies and families. 

The B.C. government said the decision to send its personnel came after the U.S. asked for help. A statement Thursday said there is still potential to send another 200 personnel to Washington state and other parts of Oregon in coming days.

A member of a search and rescue team from Salt Lake City, including a dog named Kya, look for victims through gutted homes in the aftermath of the Almeda fire in Talent, Ore., on Sunday. Hundreds of firefighting personnel from British Columbia are travelling to Oregon this week to help fight the deadly fires. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

COVID-19 precautions

Officials are taking "extraordinary" precautions to protect crews from COVID-19, both during their time in the U.S. and when they come home, the province said.

"BC Wildfire Service personnel will remain within their own 'bubble' and conduct their firefighting operations separately from American firefighters, as co-ordinated by the U.S. Forest Service and other relevant authorities," read the statement.

Firefighters with the Monitor Fire Department wait alongside the road surrounded by smoke in an area of Oregon destroyed by a wildfire on Saturday. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

The province said all costs associated with the B.C. deployment "will be covered by the jurisdiction that requested the resources, including BC Wildfire Service staff quarantine time upon their return to Canada."

Forty-five wildfire fighters from Alberta are also being deployed to Oregon.

The statement added "sufficient personnel and resources" are still in B.C. in case any fires start locally.

With files from The Associated Press