Twenty Quebec forest firefighters head down under to assist Australia combat fires
In Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, photo, firefighters work on a controlled burn in Koorainghat, New South Wales state, Australia. (Darren Pateman/AAP Images via AP)
MONTREAL -- Twenty forest firefighters from Quebec will fly to Australia Sunday to help fight the huge fires that have ravaged the country since September and have left at least 27 people dead, according to Australian media reports.
The Quebecers will first stop in Vancouver, where they will join their other Canadian colleagues called in for reinforcement by the Australian authorities. The Societe de protection des forets contre le feu (SOPFEU) also confirmed the dispatch of six other members of its staff to Australia, namely specialists and coordinating staff.
In total, Canada has sent 172 personnel to Australia since the beginning of December in three separate states, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center (CIFFC) which coordinates the operations.
Of the first wave of 95 Canadians deployed in Australia (no Quebecers), most returned to the country on December 3, explained the SOPFEU prevention and communications coordinator, Stéphane Caron, in an interview with The Canadian Press.
He said SOPFEU staff was pleasantly surprised by the number of forest firefighters who volunteered for the 31-day mission, especially since most of the forest firefighters in Quebec have another job during the winter.
"At the end of November, SOPFEU began to tour its firefighters who are not currently employed, because our fire season is summer," Caron said. "We went around everyone to find out who was ready to go to Australia if we needed help and after that, the requests really came, and CIFFC coordinated the aid by making the link with the different provinces."
It is a 31-day mission, but that could change according to the needs of Australia, which is footing the bill, according to Caron.
Forest fires in Australia have destroyed more than 2,000 homes and razed more than 10.5 million hectares (equivalent in size to Portugal), mostly in the state of New South Wales, according to local media.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2020.