Alberta firefighters ready to return favour to Australia
EDMONTON -- The resounding message from seven Alberta firefighters boarding a flight to Sydney, Australia, on Saturday was that they’re ready to lend a hand to the country that has supported them.
“I know we’ve needed help in the past and it’s just nice to return the favour,” Rob Anderson, an air attack officer from Rocky Mountain House, told CTV News Edmonton while waiting for his departing flight at the Edmonton International Airport.
“I think resource sharing is really important to build international relationships to open doors in the future and make it a two-way street.”
Anderson’s group, as well as a group leaving Edmonton on Monday, will bring the total number of Alberta firefighters in Australia to 34.
“We’re really looking forward to the experience. We’re proud to represent Alberta and Canada in this dire situation.”
The conditions the men and women are heading to are the worst Australia has seen; about five million hectares have burned across the continent, destroying some 1,500 homes and killing at least 23 people.
“Last night one of my friends sent me a picture and it was black as black can be and that’s concerning — red sky, black, at four in the afternoon. I’ve seen that in Slave Lake before and Fort McMurray, but it’s just eerie,” Anderson told CTV News Edmonton.
Despite 20 years experience — including during some of Alberta’s largest wildfire events — Anderson was anticipating a fire fight unlike any he had seen before.
“I am nervous, yeah. It’s a monumental event in Australia’s history, so obviously a guy’s naturally going to have the jitters.”
According to Alberta Wildfire’s information unit lead, Christine Tucker, Alberta has provided more than a third of the Canadian firefighters to Australia.
“Albertans everywhere understand the threat of wildfire and what it’s like to be evacuated, to be worried about your home, to be in the state a lot of people in Australia are feeling right now,” Tucker said, adding there was “no shortage” of volunteers to help.
“I think that’s why we had so many Alberta firefighters put their hand up who want to go out and help when we’ve had the need for their help in the past.”
Australia has lent firefighting resources to Canada four times.
The Albertans will be stationed in areas they’re needed most, and will offer expertise in air attack, fire behavior and operations.
The group is Canada's fourth deployment, and is expected to return to Alberta in early February.
With a report from CTV News Edmonton’s Nicole Weisberg