August 9, 2014 5:46 pm
Updated: August 9, 2014 10:52 pm

Australian fire crews arrive to help battle B.C. blazes


WATCH: Some much needed relief in what has already become one of the busiest fire seasons on record. Jeremy Hunka explains.

VANCOUVER — A group of highly trained fire fighting experts from Australia arrived at the Vancouver International Airport this afternoon to help battle blazes across the province.

In total, 80 specialists will be landing in Vancouver over the next few days, through the mutual aid agreement with the Australian State of Victoria and British Columbia.

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“Given the high amount of fire activity we’ve seen across the province this past month and anticipated forecast of continued hot and dry conditions, we made the decision that to maintain critical capacity…we were going to be requesting addition resources from Australia,” Provincial Fire Information Officer for the BC Wildfire Branch Kevin Skrepnek, told Global News.

This isn’t the first time BC has reached out for extra help. Crews from down under came over in 2009 and BC fire staff went to Australia in 2006 and 2009 to provide relief aid.

“These are specialists who are highly trained in incident command, support staff, logistic plans…they’re going to be a huge help of us in terms of ensuring we can continue to get these wildfires responded to as effectively as possible,” said Skrepnek, who noted it’s been the busiest fire season since 2010 in terms of both number and fire size. Since April 1 there have been over 1,000 wildfires in the province. At this point in the fire season last year, 7,988 hectares had been affected, compared to 248,734 hectares this year.

“We only turn to international resources when we’ve exhausted all resources in Canada,” he said.

Incident commander Jon Rofe with the Victorian Government in Australia said it was his honour to help out BC. “We’re really pleased to be able to help out British Columbia colleagues in their time of need.  We’ve certainly appreciated their assistance over the last few years when they’ve come to help us,” he told Global News.

After a quick briefing today, and a full briefing tomorrow, the crews will be dispersed throughout the province where they will spend some time shadowing BC staff and then pick up responsibility for managing the fires.

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