Australian Crews to Help Canadian Firefighters Battle Blazes

Australian Crews to Help Canadian Firefighters Battle Blazes

5 August 2009

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Canada — Australian and New Zealand firefighters are traveling to Canada today to help battle blazes in British Columbia after Canadian crews helped in February when bushfires killed more than 170 people in Victoria state.

“Victoria’s emergency response benefited” from having additional crews, Victorian Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings said in astatement. “Our firefighters gain new skills and knowledge from working with these experienced overseas fire crews.”

The 30-member contingent, including eight firefighters from Victoria, will go to the Whistler area and stay for six weeks. As many as 5,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in British Columbia’s forests, the province’s Minister for Forests and Range Pat Bell said in a statement.

The blazes in Victoria last February, known as “Black Saturday,” were Australia’s worst bushfire disaster. Fires driven by winds as strong as 125 kilometers per hour (78 miles per hour) razed entire towns.

More than 3,500 firefighters and people trained under the province’s Emergency Firefighter Program are battling theblazes in British Columbia, Bell said. Since April 1, 1,817 wildfires have burned around 51,042 hectares of forests and grasslands, according to the province’s Ministry for Public Safetyfigures.

There are several major fires, including a 3,333-hectare blaze at Mount McLean that has been burning for two weeks and resulted in the evacuation of 2,000 residents in Lillooet, 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) to the east of the fire front. “The large number of fires is stretching our resources,” Bell said. “We are grateful for the assistance from these Australian and New Zealand professionals.”

Australian and New Zealand firefighters will be deployed in forest areas and will return in time for this year’s Australian bushfire season that starts in November.

“We need to ensure that the deployment will not compromise Victoria’s preparation for the fire season,” Forest Fire Management Group chairman Ewan Waller said in the statement. “It is essential that any deployment be done safely and with the firefighters back in time to continue with preparations and be well-rested for our summer.”

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