Fire-ravaged B.C. gets help from Down Under
Help from Down Under has finally arrived.
A group of 22 fire specialists from Australia and seven from New Zealand received an impromtu standing ovation at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday.
The fire specialists will be in B.C. for a month, and are here to relieve B.C. fire officials who have been co-coordinating firefighting efforts around the province.
There are currently more than 800 fires burning in the province right now and 85,000 hectares have gone up in smoke.
"Worked into that is the fatigue factor,'' said Gene Desnoyers of the Southeast Fire Centre.
"As you continue to work people for 12 to 14 hour days, day after day, you have to give them mandated rest,'' he said, adding that the guys from Down Under are here to provide relief.
Last February, more than 160 people died in wildfires that swept through southeastern Australia.
At the time, Canadian fire specialists flew to Australia to share their expertise.
The Australians are happy to return the favour.
"Our fires are very rapid, driven by strong winds and high temperatures,'' said Andrew Graystone, an Australian fire representative. "There's low relative humidity, when humidity is low, winds strong, fire moves quickly,'' he said.
One of the fires they may be sent to is in Bella Coola. That fire has been burning for six days now.
It is close to homes and is zero per cent contained.
To avoid more fires, the provincial government is prepared to play hard ball.
"There isn't going to be any warnings anymore,'' said Pat Bell, B.C.'s Minister of Forests and Range.
Roughly 200 conservation officers will be in the air, on the ground and in boats watching for any signs of fire from cigarettes or illegal campfires.
"You need to know, if you are attending a campfire, it doesn't matter whether you started the campfire or not, you will be fined $345,'' said Bell.
"The direction we've given is they are to ticket each and every person at that campfire."
As of Thursday morning, the province has spent $134.5 million battling forest fires. The original budget was $62 million.
But there is a contingency plan for this kind of aggressive fire activity.
With a report by CTV British Columbia's Leah Hendry