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2 Saskatchewan firefighters battling Australian wildfires return home

Ile-a-la-Crosse’s Phane Ray (left) and Creighton’s Kevin Buettner (right) return home from Australia after 38 days of assisting crews battling bushfires. Global News

Two firefighters who travelled to Australia to fight the raging wildfires have returned home to Saskatchewan.

Creighton’s Kevin Buettner and Ile-a-la-Crosse’s Phane Ray, both working for the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA), landed in Saskatoon on Thursday night.

The pair were in Australia for 38 days, assisting crews in battling bushfires.

“It sure gave me a lot more appreciation for what the fellas do over there…the type of terrain, the type of vegetation and the conditions they’re facing right now — I would say devastating,” Buettner said.

READ MORE: World’s largest volunteer fire service takes on Australia’s devastating blazes

“It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of what they really have going on over there.”

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Both firefighters said it was tough seeing the impact it had on people.

“The hardest thing for us that we’d seen there is just the amount of people that are losing their homes, the loss of life, how it’s affecting everyone across New South Wales, Victoria, Southern Australia,” Ray said.

“That’s the big thing that will leave a mark on us.”

Ray said the fires are a lot different than anything he has experienced in Canada.

“It’s totally different down there, just with those days of 40-degree weather, winds that are howling up to 100 kilometres an hour,” Ray said.

READ MORE: Hot, dry and dangerous — Australia’s ‘catastrophic’ bushfires creep toward Sydney

“There stuff just dries so much quicker, burns so much faster, so it’s definitely something we’re not used to up here.”

Through all the suffering, Buettner said people aren’t giving up and are positive they’ll get through it.

“There is a lot of damage done, a lot of structural damage…it’s hard to take, but they sure are a resilient group over there, bouncing back, doing things to try and help their neighbours,” Buettner said.

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Ray said they were welcomed with open arms by everyone they came across.

Click to play video: 'Global News producer gives first-hand account of devastating wildfires in Australia' Global News producer gives first-hand account of devastating wildfires in Australia
Global News producer gives first-hand account of devastating wildfires in Australia – Jan 9, 2020

“Just every place that you went, every community that you stopped in, if you talked to somebody, right away they recognized who we were,” Ray said.

“There were hugs, there was laughter — they were very welcoming towards us.”

At least 26 people have been killed by the fires, including three volunteer firefighters.

Nine other SPSA members remain in Australia on deployment.

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