'We're returning the favour': More Canadian firefighters answer Australia's call to help battle wildfires
Australians have helped fight B.C. fires in past, have similar tactics and strategies, liaison officer says
More Canadian firefighters are on their way to Australia to help battle wildfires that have ravaged the country, burning an area greater than the size of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island combined.
A fifth deployment of firefighting experts from B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Yukon took off from the Vancouver International Airport on Monday evening, bound for Melbourne.
Once the group touches down, they will be assigned to specific wildfires.
Gary Horsman, a wildfire officer from Kamloops, B.C., who will be the group's main liaison on the ground, says Canada is just returning the favour to Australia.
"In 2017 and 2018 [during B.C.'s record-setting wildfire seasons], we had a number of Australians working here and we would have struggled without them," Horsman said.
"The fact that they are reaching out for international assistance would tell you that it's a very serious situation."
The two countries have a history of collaborating to fight fires and, in the past, the transition to being one team has been smooth, said Horsman.
"The fuel types are different down there but the tactics and strategy used to manage fires are very similar," he said.
"When the people from Australia came here, they integrated into our system pretty seamlessly and we're hoping it's the same when we go down there."
Horsman estimates there are currently more than 70 Canadian firefighters in Australia.
"Most of the people who are going are more senior staff who typically work on large fires," Horsman said.
The wildfires have so far scorched 60,000 square kilometres across Australia's southeast. The fires have killed at least 24 people and destroyed nearly 2,000 homes.
"They have a very high fire load right now and they're looking for some support so we've been called to go out and help wherever we can," said Jesse Earon, an Albertan member of the team heading to Australia.
"We're returning the favour."
The team expects to return to Canada on Feb. 5.
With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge and Felix Levert