Two Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) Wildland Firefighters returned from Australia Thursday evening. Kevin Buettner, a fire technician from Creighton, Sask., and Phane Ray, a forest protection officer from Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask., were in Australia for 38 days.
“The type of terrain, the type of vegetation, and the conditions that they have there, that they’re facing right now, certainly it was I would say devastating,” Buettner said.
“It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of what they really have going on there when you look at a provincial perspective.”
Carrie Dessmann is from Saskatoon and has been living in Australia for 21 years with her husband. The nurse is living in New South Wales close to the coast and her area hasn’t been evacuated. She’s grateful to be in a safer area, but fires have scorched the valleys just 15 minutes away from her home.
“It’s almost like seeing scenes out of a horror movie,” Dessmann told Global News Saturday morning from Australia.
“It brings a person to tears and it’s heartbreaking.”
Approximately 2,000 homes have been destroyed and least 26 people have been killed, including three volunteer firefighters. However, the country remains optimistic and appreciates support coming in from all over the globe.
“It’s kind of hard to take, but they’re sure a resilient group over there, bouncing back, doing things, trying to just help their neighbors,” Buettner said about residents in Australia.
Ray said he felt appreciated.
“There was hugs, there was laughter,” Ray recalled.
“They were very welcoming to us, so they’re definitely great people.”
Buettner and Ray were debriefed by the premier of New South Wales and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) superintendent before returning to Saskatchewan.
Nine other SPSA members remain in Australia on deployment.