Canadian firefighters expect to use tailored tactics to battle Australia blazes

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.

Australia fires

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

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, accompanied by Premier Jason Kenney, in March when the pandemic had just started in Alberta. On Wednesday, Kenney said COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed in three phases in the province. Photo by Government of Alberta
COVID-19 vaccine available to Albertans in January – distributed in 3 phases

Vaccine won’t be widely available until the fall of 2021

The G.H. Dawe Community Centre in Red Deer is getting a twinned ice rink, spray park and other upgrades as part of the 2021 capital budget. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer city council approves $43.3 million upgrade to G.H. Dawe Centre

In a 7-2 vote, the majority on council felt it’s about time

Olds College received 10 Angus heifer calves, donated by The Canadian Red Angus Promotion Society. (File photo)
Olds College and TELUS to develop new agriculture technologies

TELUS Agriculture is investing $1 million in the Olds College Smart Farm.… Continue reading

Const. Jason Tress leaves Red Deer provincial court. An RCMP officer, whose name is under a publication ban, testified Tress sexually assaulted her at a party in 2012. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Former Red Deer RCMP officer denies sexually assaulting colleague

Former Const. Jason Tress took the stand in his own defence on Wednesday

A new public washroom, proposed for downtown Red Deer, was tabled in the city’s 2021 budget discussions so more questions can be answered about the proposal. (Advocate file photo).
Proposed downtown public washroom is stalled in 2021 budget discussions

More questions need to be answered about the $511,500 project

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is seen at a media availablity to introduce new pitcher Shun Yamaguchi in Toronto on January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, left, and teammate Taylor Austin are shown during training in Whistler, B.C., in this undated handout photo. Montreal Allouettes running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is used to pysching himself up to sprint down a field, evading a crush of muscled men the entire way. But mentally preparing for his latest venture required bracing for a whole new set of anxieties. As he got ready to hop in a bobsleigh for the first time, Murray-Lawrence knew he'd be zipping down an icy track faster than cars are allowed to travel down most highways. Murrary-Lawrence, 27, is one of three CFL players who joined the national bobsleigh team after the league canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

North Carolina State defensive lineman Daniel Joseph (99) celebrates with linebacker Isaiah Moore after Moore forced a Liberty safety during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Hyman, The News & Observer via AP, Pool
Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

A Canadian Pacific Railway employee walks along the side of a locomotive in a marshalling yard in Calgary on May 16, 2012. CP says an investigation is underway following the release of a video showing one of the company's trains running over dozens of pronghorn antelope in southwestern Saskatchewan.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, holds a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020., to announce additional funds to improve access to safe drinking water on reserves. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Wilner Cayo, centre, and Frantz Andre attend a demonstration outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's constituency office in Montreal on May 23, 2020, where they called on the government to give residency status to migrant workers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Most Read