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At least 68 Canadians to give up holidays at home, head to Australia to battle wildfires

B.C. firefighters are among the dozens of Canadians who’ve joined the wildfire fight in Australia
WATCH:B.C. firefighters are among the dozens of Canadians who've joined the wildfire fight in Australia

Sixty-nine Canadians are giving up their holidays at home to join the battle for the first time against the deadly wildfires devastating vast tracts of several Australian states.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre says a contingent of 21 highly trained staff from a variety of agencies left Canada on Dec. 3, for a 38 day deployment in New South Wales after the centre received an official request for assistance.

READ MORE: Cooler weather eases Australian fire conditions as PM returns from holiday

On Dec. 19 a second group of 30 Canadians was sent in for a 38 day deployment in the fire zone, and a further 17 are leaving on Dec. 30 for about a month. The group leaving on Dec. 30 was previously reported to be 18 Canadians, but Global News confirmed that a family emergency lowered the number to 17.

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Kim Connors, the executive director of the Winnipeg based CIFFC, says that Canada has called on Australian firefighters four times since 2015, and the “agreements are reciprocal in nature so it was the first time that Australia has needed help from Canada.”

‘It was important that I return’: Australia’s Prime Minister apologizes for going on holiday as fire conditions ease
‘It was important that I return’: Australia’s Prime Minister apologizes for going on holiday as fire conditions ease

“Our Canadian firefighters and their families have volunteered their time to be away for the holidays, which is different for the northern hemisphere to be dealing with wildland fires over Christmas and New Year’s so we’re very proud of them for doing that,” he said in an interview.

The CIFFC says crews from Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Yukon, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. are assisting with a variety of tasks including roles in command, aviation, planning, logistics and operations.

“So they’re not on the front line, they’re in the overall management of the fires,” said Connors.

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“They’ve been in a period of drought for quite a long period and it’s not a very good situation down there and obviously their summer is just started as our winter starts.”

READ MORE: More than 100 fires burning in Australia, forcing travel delays during busy holiday season

In a statement to emailed to Global News, Natural Resources Canada said the international sharing of firefighting resources is of “fundamental importance to all countries.”

“The Government of Canada appreciates all the support from our provincial, territorial, federal colleagues who quickly offered staff to travel to Australia and support firefighting efforts through the holidays, and to CIFFC staff for their efforts to coordinate,” the statement read.

Bushfires continue to rage in Australia while residents inspect damage near Sydney
Bushfires continue to rage in Australia while residents inspect damage near Sydney

According to the statement, Canada has mutual aid agreements with Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Mexico and South Africa.

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Record high temperatures and strong southerly winds are fanning more than 100 fires in New South Wales alone.

Two volunteer firefighters have been killed and dozens of homes have been lost since Thursday in the massive fires, including the Gospers Mountain blaze, which covered more than 460,000 hectares.

–With files from Global News