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69 Canadians giving up holidays to help with Australian wildfires

Sixty-nine Canadians are giving up their holidays at home to join the battle for the first time against the deadly wildfires devastating vast tracts of several Australian states.

Crews with variety of tasks are from Ontario, Alberta, B.C., N.L., Quebec, Yukon, Manitoba, Saskatchewan

Sixty-nine Canadians are giving up their holidays at home to join the battle for the first time against the deadly wildfires devastating vast tracts of several Australian states.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) says 21 highly trained staff from a variety of agencies left Canada on Dec. 3 for a 38-day deployment in New South Wales after the centre received an official request for assistance.

On Thursday, a second group of 30 Canadians was sent in for a 38-day deployment in the fire zone and 18 more are leaving on Dec. 30 for about a month.

Kim Connors, executive director of the Winnipeg-based CIFFC, says Canada has called on Australian firefighters four times since 2015, and the "agreements are reciprocal in nature, so it was the first time that Australia has needed help from Canada.

The CIFFC says crews from eight provinces are assisting with a variety of tasks including roles in command, aviation, planning, logistics and operations; but they won't be on the front lines. The provinces are:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Quebec.
  • Yukon.
  • Ontario.
  • Manitoba.
  • Saskatchewan.
  • Alberta.
  • British Columbia.

"They've [Australians] been in a period of drought for quite a long period and it's not a very good situation down there, and obviously their summer is just started as our winter starts," said Connors.

CIFCC national duty officer Stephen Tulle says the group's response shows how dedicated people are to the program.

National duty officer Stephen Tulle is seen at the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg on Sunday. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"I think the most important thing to me is how proud I am of our men and women, our professional fire managers who are taking themselves away from their friends and loved ones during this time of year to go on such an extended period of duty," he told CBC News.

"The Australians are very welcoming and [the Canadians] are also finding the learning curve is very steep because of time, environment [and] tech changes, but they've adjusted very well and are very glad and proud to be there."

Record high temperatures and strong southerly winds are fanning more than 100 fires in New South Wales alone.

Two volunteer firefighters have been killed and dozens of homes have been lost since Thursday in the massive fires, including the Gospers Mountain one that covered more than 460,000 hectares.

With files from CBC's Austin Grabish

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