Nova Scotia firefighters to help fight Australia wildfires

Three Nova Scotians will fill management positions to support Australian efforts

Three firefighters from Nova Scotia left the province on Wednesday bound for Australia to help fight wildfires that have been ravaging that country.

Paul Schnurr, Kirk Webster, and Terry White are part of a group of 27 Canadian firefighters who will head to Australia this week from Vancouver. The three men will fill management positions in the effort to support Australian firefighters.

“We’re not the boots on the ground that are actually working the fire line itself, but we are organizing these efforts,” said Schnurr, Nova Scotia’s wildfire training officer.

Schnurr will be acting as an incident commander in Australia, a role which involves overseeing firefighting efforts. Webster will be working with other team members to build daily action plans and co-ordinate ground efforts. White will act as a base camp manager.

So far, the men have few details on what to expect when they touch down in the state of Victoria. As of now, they’re not even quite sure when that will be.

“We’re kind of going into this a little bit blind,” Schnurr said, speaking with reporters at Halifax Stanfield International Airport shortly before their flight.

What they do know is that the situation is very serious. Schnurr said climate is playing a role in how rapidly the wildfires have been spreading. Hot and dry weather means that fires grow faster. It’s also harder on firefighters, making the ground effort more challenging.

“They look pretty extreme,” Webster said of the fires. “I think probably they had the worst of it a week or two ago and things have cooled off a bit from what I’ve seen.”

This season, Australia has seen the worst wildfires in decades. Many are citing climate change as a factor making this fire season so extreme.

Schnurr, Webster, and White have all been deployed in the past to assist in firefighting efforts across Canada. This is the first time any of them have been deployed internationally.

“It is a mixed bag of emotions today,” said White, whose wife, Candace, and two sons saw him off at the airport in Halifax.

“We get the call of duty and we have to go. That doesn’t make it easier anytime we go, but the family supports it.”

The firefighters will be gone for 32 days, twice as long as is usual for out-of-province deployment. All three said they were happy to help out a country in need.

“I know Australia comes to help Canada when we have a bad forest fire season, so we’re happy to return the favour,” said Schnurr.

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