US, Canadian firefighters arrive to tackle bushfires

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North American firefighters have been arriving in Australia since early December to assist in the country’s bushfire crisis with more to be deployed on Monday.

For the first time since 2010, the US is sending firefighters while Canada is sending fire experts to Australia for the first time.

According to the National Interagency Fire Centre, the US government agency that coordinates international deployment of firefighters, roughly 100 American firefighters have been sent to Australia over the last four weeks, with 50 to 60 more planned to be dispatched on Monday.

Stephen Tulle, duty officer with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, said there are currently 84 Canadian fire experts stationed in Queensland and NSW on a six-week deployment.

Canadians are keen to repay Australian assistance received during the 2017 and 2018 fires in the province of British Columbia.

The Canadian contingent says the Australian bushfire crisis is unlike anything they have experienced before.

About 13 million acres of have been burned and at least 17 people have died.

Glen Burgress, who is co-ordinating Canadian efforts out of Sydney, says these fires are particularly severe.

“I’ve seen a lot of pretty dramatic fire behaviour but nothing like what we’re seeing here,” he told the Calgary Herald. “The temperatures are so different and the fire behaviours are so different. It’s not what we’re used to dealing with, for sure. The basics of firefighting don’t really change, but the volatility and the rates of spread are really something we’re not overly used to.”

Marc Mousseau, a Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) official currently in Brisbane, told Globe and Mail that Australia’s drought meant the fire response was different to how fires in Canada were usually handled.

“Freshwater is definitely in short supply here in Australia, so different tactics are used on the fire,” he said. “There’s a lot of burnout operations – you know, clearing and burning. Where we would just find a nice water supply, set up, run hose – they just don’t have that luxury here.”

Canadian officials are keen to stress that Australian firefighters are the most knowledgeable about how to fight these fires but Canadian deployment liaison officer Morgan Kehr says the international contingent has been able to offer a key boost to the firefighting effort.

“Canadians came in fresh and uplifted the spirits and energy levels in the fire control centres they are working in now,” he said. “The staff in the incident management teams are obviously exhausted, and that’s why we’re here.”

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The Canadians are mainly helping with the logistics of fighting the fires, planning and managing aviation units.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on A Current Affair on Friday night that more planes carrying international firefighters were set to arrive but was unable to say when.

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