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Lone Québécois Firefighter Among 1st Canadians In Australia Battling The Historic Bushfire

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Bushfires continue to rage on in Australia, where at least 24 people have died and more than 2,000 homes have been ravaged by flames, according to ABC News. The world has come together on social media to express their sorrow at the devastation of the destructive natural disaster. But some Canadian forest firefighters are doing more than just sharing a post online. There are currently 95 Canadian firefighters in Australia to help with the blaze, including one Québécois firefighter, Frédéric André.

André is Head of the Land Base in Roberval, Quebec, for SOPFEU, the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu. SOPFEU is one of the many agencies in Canada that works within the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

It was CIFFC that put together this group of nearly 100 Canadians to help fight the fires raging in Australia. In speaking with the CIFFC, spokesperson Melanie Morin explained that, as with any request for aid, whether from a Canadian province or another country, CIFFC coordinates resources from all provincial agencies.

The provincial agencies then take stock of their own resources and provide what they can in terms of aid.

CIFFC explains in its press release that the Canadians that have been sent to Australia will not be “front-line firefighters.”

They are, instead, specialists who will “assume a variety of roles within Incident Management Teams, including roles in command, aviation, planning, logistics, and operations,” primarily in the state of New South Wales.

Frédéric André is in charge of logistics teams in Australia responsible for “attack strategies,” as described in the interview below.

In the interview, André describes the difficulty of fighting fires in Australia right now, where the dry season is in full effect and many lakes are completely dry.

Here in Quebec, there are lakes everywhere, making water the most sensible way to fight fires. In Australia, especially right now, there is simply not enough water to allow the firefighters to gain control of the blaze.

That means that, in Australia, they are literally fighting fire with fire.

As André explains, firefighters on the front line are now burning a circle of fire around the bushfire.

This creates a zone of pre-burned vegetation around the bushfire. As the bushfire grows and travels outwards, it inevitably meets the controlled burn zone.

With nothing left to burn, the fire dies.

Fires in North America have resulted in the need to execute “controlled” or “prescribed” burns, too, and Indigenous communities in Australia are calling for more of this historically-practised procedure.

Quebec’s most notable forest fire, seen below, reached 600,000 hectares in 2013. 

André explains in the interview above that, in Australia, the fire has reached 100,000 hectares — about the size of Belgium.

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