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NSW bushfire service helps Canada douse record forest fires

Sally Bryant, Wednesday September 3, 2014 - 13:47 EST
Audience submitted image
Firefighters in British Colombia bunker down in fire camps for long shifts at the fire front, forest fires have done more damage in Canada this year since the 1950's. - Audience submitted

Parts of eastern Australia are facing an increased threat of bushfires this summer and authorities are gearing up for possibly significant forest fires.

Lower than expected rainfall has caused bushfire authorities to release warnings in the early spring that the 2014/2015 season could be particularly bad.

On the other side of the world, Canadians are starting to see the signs of early autumn in morning frosts and sub-zero temperatures, but they're still fighting massive fires in their forests.

A group of more than 80 Australian rural fire fighters have been in Canada, helping to get those fires under control.

Mark Williams is the District Manager of the Shoalhaven Rural Fire Service, currently directing aerial operations in remote forest fires in the north of British Colombia; he is preparing to return to Australia to gear up for the summer season here.

Mr Williams says there are large differences between the fires and between the fire-fighting operations in the two countries, but there are also similarities and valuable training experiences to be shared between the two services.

"The fire we are currently fighting is in a huge pine forest which is very remote, it was started by lightning and we're largely using aircraft to fight it," he said.

"The Canadians and the Americans use similar incident control techniques to those we use, so we can work cooperatively with them.

"But there are significant differences between the way we work as well, the Canadians work a 14 day roster and during that time they're working 16 or 17 hours a day.

"So you really have to pace yourself, it's easy to go too hard in the beginning and get tired."

However Mr Williams says there are advantages in this roster, that fire-fighters get into the rhythm of the fire, they get a strong sense of the job and of the topography and that can be a distinct advantage.

As well as the training advantages of working in other jurisdictions, Australian bush fire fighters also share resources with services in the northern hemisphere.

The large fire-fighting helicopters from Canada will head south to Australia as the northern hemisphere fire season tapers off and their work is over there.

And if the predictions are accurate it seems likely those big resources will be in demand in Australia this summer.


© ABC 2014

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