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Instead of being home for the holidays, Canadian firefighters head to Australia to battle wildfires

As deadly bushfires continue to burn across Australia, a delegation of Canadian wildfire experts has embarked on a month-long trip to aid in the country’s crisis.

The group of 21 wildfire suppression experts left Vancouver on Tuesday and are not expected to return until early January, meaning they will be thousands of miles away from home for the holidays.

The contingent is responding to calls for aid by Australia’s National Council for Fire and Emergency Services, known as AFAC.

“CIFFC and all 13 of its member agencies are prepared to respond with further assistance if requested. Our thoughts remain focused on our colleagues and the citizens of Australia as they continue to manage through this difficult time,” said the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre on Twitter.

As of Wednesday, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported there are 129 bushfires burning across southeastern region, 72 of which are uncontained.

Southeast Australia is reeling from a series of “catastrophic” bushfires driven by high temperatures, low humidity and one of its worst droughts in decades.

Seven of the Canadian experts are from British Columbia’s Wildfire Service and include two highly trained air tanker supervisors and a heavy equipment branch director.

“Their willingness to be deployed out of the country during the holiday season is a testament to their dedication and professionalism,” said Doug Donaldson, British Columbia’s minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, in a statement.

Other members of the contingent come from fire management teams in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Canada’s national parks service, Parks Canada.

“It’s only late spring in Australia, but an early and extreme wildfire season in the eastern part of the country has already stretched Australia’s firefighting resources and led to fatalities, property losses and the destruction of large areas of New South Wales and Queensland,” Donaldson said.

The countries have helped each other before

The two countries have a strong history of fire assistance, exchanging professional teams to aid each other’s wildfire crises for years.

“Canada has called on Australian firefighters four times since 2015, and we are proud to now provide support to them during this devastating fire season,” Canada’s Alberta Wildfire wrote in a tweet.

In 2017, almost 200 Australian firefighting specialists deployed to assist Canada in fighting hundreds of fires. Last year, another crew of Australian fire personnel arrived in British Columbia, along with others from New Zealand and Mexico, reported Global News.

Doug Donaldson noted that this is the first time Australia has called for firefighting support from Canada since 2009.

CNN