More Alberta firefighters heading to Australia to help

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More firefighters from Alberta will be leaving shortly for Australia to help battle the massive wildfires there.

Seven firefighters will be departing from Edmonton on Saturday and another five will be leaving on Monday.

A Canadian contingent is already there. The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre said a group of 15 set out for Queensland on Monday.

Duty officer Stephen Tulle said the contingent of Canadian wildfire specialists stationed in Queensland and New South Wales will reach 87 by Jan. 4.

This is the first time that Canada has sent firefighters to Australia, although Tulle says crews from Down Under have visited here and were vital in helping British Columbia handle widespread wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

The Canadian contingent of volunteers is made up of men and women from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Parks Canada.

Tulle says the Canadians will primarily be performing fire-manager duties, related to command, planning, logistics and aviation management.

Canadian firefighters will spend about six weeks in Australia before returning home and Tulle said Canada will continue to send crews as long as volunteers can be found, and Australia is requesting help.

The early and devastating start to Australia’s summer wildfires has made this season the worst on record. About 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land have burned, at least 19 people have been killed, and more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed.

This week, at least 448 homes have been destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast and dozens were burned in Victoria. Ten deaths have been confirmed in the two states this week, and Victoria authorities also say 28 people are missing. Fires are also burning in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.

Sydney University ecologist Chris Dickman told the Sydney Morning Herald nearly 500 million birds, reptiles and mammals are likely to have perished in New South Wales alone. Frogs, bats and insects are excluded from his estimate, making the toll on animals much greater.

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