Canadian firefighters expect to use tailored tactics to battle Australia blazes

HALIFAX — As Canadian firefighters boarded flights Wednesday to battle blazes in Australia, they noted they will likely have to employ some different tactics than they do to fight local fires.

In Halifax, the first three of 69 Canadian firefighters heading to the island continent said hotter temperatures and drier conditions call for different measures than typical East Coast fires, where water is plentiful and the blazes are slower.

Paul Schnurr, a wildfire training officer with the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry, said differing weather, topography and ecology affect forest fires, and Canadians are trained to work with all of those variables.

However, the incident commander says the Australian bush fires can spread quickly due to the lack of moisture, and response tactics often include extensive use of heavy equipment to clear gaps in the landscape.

“The climate seems to be a lot drier than we’ve ever been in Nova Scotia, creating these large fires that aren’t commonly seen here,” said Schnurr, 50.

The veteran firefighter said with water scarce in some of Australia’s burning regions, crews are unlikely to be able to continually douse the flames.

“When we don’t have a lot of water … we may be constructing (fire) guards with bulldozers and plows — and if need be, hand tools — to create a fire break,” he said.

Schnurr joined Lands and Forestry colleagues Terry White and Kirk Webster as part of a contingent heading towards Vancouver, with plans to land in Melbourne later this week for a month-long deployment.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre says 27 incident management staff are leaving for Melbourne on Thursday, followed by two more incident managers and 40 firefighters on the weekend.

This is the sixth wave of Canadians helping out in Australia, bringing the total number to more than 160.

Schnurr said the teams of Canadian firefighters will only learn their specific assignments as they land.

“We know they’re in a bad way and we’re prepared to help out,” he said.

White, who came to the airport with his wife and two sons, noted the 32-day deployment is double the usual time he spends away from home to fight fires in Western Canada.

“It’s a mixed bag of emotions today,” he said.

“But I’m certainly looking forward to helping out. I was in British Columbia in 2017 and the Australians were helping out.”

The interagency centre, a Winnipeg-based non-profit entity run by federal, provincial and territorial fire management agencies, has said Australian firefighters helped out in Canada in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

The island country is suffering a lengthy and deadly wildfire season that began in October — several months earlier than usual.

More than seven million hectares across the country have burned. Twenty-eight people have died, more than 3,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed and the blazes have forced the largest peacetime evacuation in Australia’s history.

It’s estimated more than half a billion animals have died.

Smoke in Melbourne was so bad Tuesday that Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard needed medical attention in a qualifying match at the Australian Open tennis tournament. At least one other match was called off because of the smoke.

Most of the Canadian firefighters who have travelled there to date are helping with managing the response teams, overseeing the use of airplanes, and providing expertise in how the fires will behave.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Paul Schnurr’s last name.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lethbridge College evacuated as result of threat

Police are investigating a report of a threat at Lethbridge College. The… Continue reading

RCMP looking for wanted man believed to be in central Alberta

Wetaskiwin RCMP are looking for a man facing murder charges, and they… Continue reading

Red Deer 2020 Mayor’s Recognition Awards accepts nominations

Candidates can be nominated in five categories before March 9

Country music fans enjoy free concert at Red Deer mall, ahead of ACMA awards

Fans like to get up close and personal and that’s exactly what… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Feb. 1 A Jump Rope Competition will be held at the Abbey… Continue reading

David Marsden: Let’s see success at Westerner Park

It’s encouraging that Westerner Park has admitted it needs the support of… Continue reading

New pressure on Prince Andrew to help Epstein investigation

LONDON — The pressure on Britain’s disgraced Prince Andrew increased Tuesday after… Continue reading

Lacombe to spend $15,000 over five years on stocking Len Thompson Pond

Popularity of facility means further stocking necessary

City council in Prince Albert, Sask., votes to give plastic bags the boot

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — A city in northern Saskatchewan is believed to… Continue reading

Alberta’s climate plan part of cabinet decision on new oilsands mine: Wilkinson

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says cabinet’s decision on a massive… Continue reading

Magnitude 7.7 earthquake hits between Cuba and Jamaica

HAVANA — A powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck in the Caribbean Sea… Continue reading

RDC Queens curling advance to ACAC Championships

RDC set to host the championships from Feb. 28 to March 1

Most Read