Since late December, a steady stream of Canadians have been making trips to Australia. But they're not going on holiday. These are fire experts — some of the country's most experienced minds on wildfires. They know how they start, how they move, and how to stop them.
In total, there are about 95 Canadians stationed in the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales. And their help is most welcome.
For the last four months, Australia has been enduring its worst wildfire season on record. Also known as bushfires locally, they started earlier than usual (in September, late in Australian winter) and have been fueled by a deadly combination of drought, heat, and high winds.
Even for a country used to the natural presence of such fires, this fire season has been devastating. Some fires have been burning for months. In New South Wales alone, the area burned is 20 times larger than in a normal year. Across Australia an estimated 1 billion mammals, birds, and reptiles have been killed so far.
Plan of defense
How can these Canadian fire crews help? In this case, they won't actually be on the front lines with hoses. In fact, Australia already has a great firefighting force — the Rural Fire Service. It is the largest volunteer fire service in the world, and has been joined by members of its army reserve.
But these fires are so large — in size and number — that it is a lot to keep track of. The hope is that Canada's experts can join Australia's own experienced leaders and plan the best ways to stop these flames in their tracks.
It is also a chance for Canadians to return a favour. In 2017 and 2018, Australian fire experts flew to Canada to help fight record wildfires burning in British Columbia. Aussie crews also flew to California in 2018.
Moving forward into summer
For now, Australia is getting a little weather relief, too. Temperatures have briefly dropped and even a little rain has returned. (The current Australia drought — low rainfall — has lasted three years.)
But January is only beginning. And with it comes the peak of the Australian summer — high heat and winds. The hope is that together — Australians, Canadians, along with experts from elsewhere around the world — these fire crews can plan a best defense to help the country get back on its feet.