Sudbury

Fire experts from northeastern Ontario helping battle Australian fires

19 fire managers from around the province, including the northeast, are in Australia now, providing support to local firefighting crews. 

19 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources fire management personnel down under to support logistics

Northern Ontario crews have been sent to help their Australian counterparts battle a fire that so far has claimed 25 lives. (State Control Centre Media/News Corp Australia/ Jason Edwards/Reuters/AAP Image)

Fire experts from around Ontario, including the northeast, are in Australia now, providing support to local firefighting crews. 

Isabelle Chenard, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry's North East region, said these fire management personnel have expertise in fire behaviour, air tactics, planning and logistics.

"December 3rd was actually the first time Canadian Fire Management staff has been deployed to Australia under our exchange of wildland fire management resources agreement," Chenard said.

That exchange is managed by the Canadian Inter-agency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg, Man.

"We sent an operations section chief and two planning section chiefs at that time, and then further on in December we provided an additional six staff members of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and forestry and they're filling roles such as logistics," Chenard said.

They won't be "boots on the ground" types of support, Chenard said, but will be filling highly specialized roles in the battle against the fires.

The crews that arrive overseas will also encounter a vastly different environment, something they have been readying themselves for, Chenard said.

"Topography will be different in Australia, things like weather, as well as forest fire fuel," she said. "So for example types of soil and vegetation on the landscape, those would be different in Australia."

There are also hazards like spiders and snakes which the Canadian crews wouldn't normally face in this country.

Widespread drought and multiple heat waves are creating perfect conditions for fires, which have scorched millions of hectares of bushland since October. Australian sources seem to differ on how much land has burnt.

Australian firefighters have been to Canada four times since 2015 to help with forest fires in this country.

Fire agencies in New South Wales and Victoria, the two most populated states in Australia, reported on their websites there were 3.9 million hectares and 1.2 million hectares of fires, respectively, burning on their territories right now. In New South Wales, 136 fires are being tracked, 36 of them out of control.

Officials in Australia say 25 people have been killed in the fires.

With files from Angela Gemmill and Mia Rabson

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