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B.C. firefighters head Down Under to help battle extreme wildfire season

B.C. firefighters are headed to Australia to help battle an extreme wildfire season. (via Paul Sudmals /Facebook)

British Columbia is sending firefighters to Australia today (Dec. 3) to help battle an extreme wildfire season in the eastern part of the country.

Seven B.C. firefighters are among 22 Canadians headed Down Under to assist in fighting bushfires that have already wiped out 800,000 hectares in national parks in New South Wales — up to 1.9m hectares of bush has been burnt in the state since July 1.

The bushfires, which have affected 12 of 28 NSW world heritage reserves including the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and the Gondwana rainforest, in the north of the state, have been labelled a “global tragedy” by ecologists, The Guardian reported.

The bushfires have also swept through prime koala habitat in Port Macquarie in northern NSW and it’s estimated 350 of the iconic native marsupials have been killed, according to conservationists in the area.

Doug Donaldson, B.C.’s minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, said this was the first time since 2009 that Australia had asked for firefighting support from Canada.

“During British Columbia’s devastating 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons, Australian fire personnel responded to our calls for assistance through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre,” he said.

“We greatly appreciated their assistance during those difficult years, and we welcome the opportunity to help out our Australian friends now.”

Donaldson said B.C. was sending experienced personnel, including a planning section chief, two operations section chiefs, two air-tanker group supervisors, an air operations branch director and a heavy equipment branch director.

“It’s only late spring in Australia, but an early and extreme wildfire season in the eastern part of the country has already stretched Australia’s firefighting resources and led to fatalities, property losses and the destruction of large areas of NSW and Queensland,” he explained.

“Currently, Australia has about 1,100 firefighters working on its wildfires.”

On Dec. 3, NSW Rural Fire Service had 122 bushfires listed and the QLD Rural Fire Service had 47.

The Canadian contingent is expected to be in Australia for 38-days, with an anticipated return date of Jan. 10, 2020. They will fly into Sydney and initially be deployed in NSW.

“I personally thank the BC Wildfire Service staff who are being deployed to Australia. Their willingness to be deployed out of the country during the holiday season is a testament to their dedication and professionalism,” Donaldson said.

Given that Australia is only entering its summer season, the need to deploy additional British Columbian and Canadian resources to assist in the coming months remains a possibility.

— Elisia Seeber, Vancouver Is Awesome