B.C. adds 80 Australians to forest fire fighting roster
In what is turning out to be one of the busiest wildfire seasons in recent years, B.C. is adding to the fight some extra muscle from down under.
Eighty specialized personnel from the State of Victoria will help relieve the more than 2,500 local and out-of-province fire fighters who have been on the ground for months.
The experts include fire behaviourists, fire incident management teams, incident commanders, aircraft co-ordinators and support staff.
“We've got a highly experienced, well trained team that we've brought across, and we're aiming to help out as much as we can,” said Jon Rofe, an Australian Incident Commander who spoke to CTV right after arriving YVR.
The province did not request any ground crews and the Australian personnel will serve as backfill to cover mandatory days off and allow more experienced crews to act as first responders on more difficult fires.
With an annual budget of $60 million, the province has spent more than double that in this year’s season.
The Aussie teams do not come cheap either—they will remain in B.C. for up to five weeks and could cost the taxpayer as much as $2.5 million—however BC Wildfire Management insists the Australian expertise could not be found closer to home.
“We don't make the decision lightly to go internationally for resources but like I said, we have maximized every available resource in Canada right now,” said Kevin Skrepnek, a Provincial Fire Information Officer.
Of the more than 2,500 personnel currently on the ground, 1,600 are provincial staff, 860 are B.C. contractors, and over 200 come from out-of-province.
Australia last sent teams to B.C. in 2009 and B.C. send teams of local firefighters to help there in 2007 and 2009. Since the height of the Australian wildfire season occurs in B.C.’s winter and spring, it becomes an ideal relationship as teams can travel back and forth during the other’s downtime.
The B.C. Wildfire Management Branch says it has responded to over 1000 forest fires so far this season, most of them caused by lightning strikes.
One of the most noteworthy fires, a 40-hectare human-caused fire on Drought Hill between West Kelowna and Peachland, is a quarter contained but still threatens one home.
And with the hot weather forecast to continue, the extra help is needed.
“They are very, very keen to get to work,” said Rofe.
With files from CTV’s Michele Brunoro