Albertans return from battling fires in Australia: ‘I don’t think it’s easy for people to comprehend’

Albertans return home from Australia firefighting effort
WATCH: As wildfires continue to ravage Australia, some Albertans are returning home from their tours helping in the battle. As Jayme Doll reports, they were welcomed with open arms and said it was hard to leave.

Parks Canada’s Jane Park is back in her Banff, Alta. office after spending six weeks helping exhausted Australians battle an unprecedented fire season.

“It was an amazing opportunity to take the things that we work on in Canada and help out neighbours who need it,” said Park, who worked in the Fire Control Centre in Kempsey, New South Wales.

“At the time we were there, around the fire was around 150,000 hectares, so it was a pretty big one.

“The scope and geographic scale of the fire season that they are having — I don’t think it’s easy for people to comprehend, even people within fire [services].”

READ MORE: Massive wildfires are permanently altering Australia’s landscape, scientists say

Park said her Australian counterparts and locals in town were grateful for the extra help.

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“For us to be there actually allowed some of the Australian fire people to spend Christmas with their family, so I think that was kind of special.

“They are used to missing Christmas because it’s always their fire season but with us there, some of them could actually be home for Christmas.”

Dozens of Canadians are currently Down Under supporting in the fire fight. Some are on the front lines, others in the control centers, where they are critically under resourced.

READ MORE: Canada sends additional firefighters to help battle Australia wildfires

Marc Gamache, who works as a wildfire technologist for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, arrived in New South Wales at the beginning of the month. He worked in an Incident Command Center and said they hit the ground running and didn’t stop for 30 days.

“We brought fresh perspectives and fresh energy to their team so they were quite happy with our suggestions,” said Gamache, who returned home on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Canadian firefighters warmly welcomed in Australia — ‘We have been humbled’

But it wasn’t just about planning and fire fighting. Gamache said the Canadians have been a source of emotional support to their new Australian friends.

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“They are so busy they are trying to get the job done, but folks that had their house burnt, they are coming to work and they trying to keep working.

“We provided that little piece too because peer support is so important in the fire fighting community.”

Gamache said the country still has six to eight weeks of fire season left and the crisis is far from over.

Talking with the vet who helped save animals from the Australia wildfires
Talking with the vet who helped save animals from the Australia wildfires

Canadians are still rotating through, giving back as much as they can, some leaving with more than they arrived with.

“It was a pretty once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this kind of help and I think we accomplished that,” said Gamache.

He said he would go back if he was given the chance.

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