Calgary

Parks Canada specialists return from Australia after providing wildfire support

Two Parks Canada fire management specialists from Alberta and British Columbia have returned from a trip to Australia where they helped their counterparts in that country battle back against the wildfire crisis.

Officials say 171 Canadian firefighting experts have been sent to Australia at various times

Parks Canada fire management specialists Spencer Verdiel, left, and Jane Park have returned from Australia after helping assist with that country's wildfire crisis. (Parks Canada)

Two Parks Canada fire management specialists from Alberta and British Columbia have returned from a trip to Australia where they helped their counterparts in that country battle wildfires.

Jane Park, a fire vegetation specialist in Banff, and Spencer Verdiel, a fire management officer from British Columbia, both travelled to Australia.

Park said the trip presented an interesting challenge for the Canadians.

"There was the challenge of going to a totally different hemisphere, a different environment, a different country, to do what we're trained to do," Park said. "Getting to understand the vegetation, the fire ecology of Australia and New South Wales was definitely very interesting from a professional standpoint.

"But also working with a lot of the fire specialists and firefighters from Australia was really rewarding as well."

Officials say 171 Canadian fire management and firefighting experts have been sent to Australia at various times. Deployments typically last around a month.

"We've been received with open arms," said Melanie Morin, a spokesperson with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. "Having fresh hands and fresh eyes has been really appreciated."

Jane Park is a fire vegetation specialist in Banff. She returned from Australia after helping to take some of the load off those battling wildfires. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Park said Australia posed unique challenges from a firefighting perspective, like when it came to dealing with local vegetation. 

"The vegetation is a lot more volatile than the types of vegetation we have here," she said. "Some of the physical characteristics of the fuel, in terms of some of the eucalypts, have very stringy or sheet-like bark that can be lofted into the air and stay lit for long distances."

Verdiel said the two countries worked well together, and there were a number of similarities in firefighting strategy.

"The folks we were working with in Australia, [they] took care of us and [welcomed] us," he said.

On Monday, Canada sent a military transport plane and about 15 military personnel to help fight bushfires in Australia.

With files from Dave Gilson

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