British Columbia, Canada — Fora contingent of Kamloops firefighters battling a massive blaze Down Under, theflames arent the No. 1 safety risk.
Used to encountering grizzly bears in B.C. forests,the firefighters are encountering copperhead, tiger and brown snakes in a nationwith the worlds highest concentration of deadly reptiles.
Faced with the worst bushfire season in 100 years,state administrators in Victoria in southeastern Australia called the Canadiansfor reinforcement.
On Jan. 7, 52 Canucks including three Kamloopsians touched down in Bairnsdale, a three-hour drive east of Melbourne,Victorias capital.
Surveying the town of 11,000 as she flew in, Jeanne Rucker, fire information officer for the Kamloops Fire Centre, was struck by how similar the sun-baked mountains looked to the ones around Kamloops.
She could also see the bushfire they had been called to fight. She said the fire is so big, its smoke columns are visible after driving an hour from Melbourne and three hours later along the same road, theyre still in sight.
This is a large fire, Rucker said.
By Canadian standards, large is an understatement. It covers 1.18-million hectares of land and is the largest bushfire in Victorias history, spurred on by the lowest rain levels on record.
The wildfires that burned around Kamloops in 2003consumed about 30,000 hectares of land, but Rucker said the Canadian contingentis finding the two fires similar.
The Canadians are working seven days on, two days off as they do in Canada and sweltering in the Australian summer intemperatures hovering around 40 degrees.
Their efforts have paid off.
The crew has contained the southern portion of thefire known as the Great Dividing Fire because its burning on both sidesof the Great Dividing Range that has destroyed 32 homes.
The Canadians are now implementing the first stage ofthe fire rehabilitation program, visiting residents of affected areas andrecording the damage.
But more fires could be on the horizon, Rucker warned.
They still could get a bunch of fires. . . . Thiscould be a very devastating season yet for them, she said, adding six weeksremain in Australias fire season.
The Canadians arent sticking around for the secondhalf of the season. On Feb. 14, they touchdown back in Canada at VancouverInternational Airport.