300 firefighters from Canada are assisting with wildfires in Washington and Oregon

September 19, 2020  |  4:24 p.m. PDT

Darron Williams welcomes Canadian firefighters from the Merritt Fire Zone, B.C. L to R: Edge, John Noel, Darron Williams, Kendra Finch, and Steffens Hunt. NWCC photo.

Approximately 300 firefighters from Canada are in Washington and Oregon assisting with the Siege of ’20.

Canadian firefighters arrive in Redmond, Oregon
Canadian firefighters arrive in Redmond, Oregon. US Forest Service photo by Andre’ Ruoti.

Canada to partially fulfill the United States’ request for firefighting help

Australia is considering it

Updated September 2, 2020 | 8:58 a.m. PDT

Early last week the United States requested help from Australia and Canada in battling the wildfires in California and other states. The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group, through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), asked Canada for four to five 20-person hand crews and requested 55 overhead personnel from Australia.

The three 20-person crews from Quebec will be arriving in Boise Wednesday September 2. They will receive a briefing orientation and participate in fire shelter deployment training. After a one-night rest in Boise, the crews will fly to Reno, Nevada and board ground transportation to their fire assignment on the North Complex in California. The North Complex consists of numerous lightning fires being managed as one incident on the Plumas National Forest.

As for the status of the request for 55 overhead positions from down under, “Australia is on hold for now,” Ms. Cobb said. “They are assessing the need for the types of personnel being requested as our fire situation evolves.”

Australia is approaching the beginning of their 2020-2021 summer bushfire season.

From The Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

The ABC understands anyone who wants to go to California will have to pass strict health tests and age will be taken into consideration because of COVID-19.

Those who go to California will have to quarantine for two weeks when they return to Australia, which [Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council CEO Stuart] Ellis said he expected would play a role in deciding who goes.

“That needs to be factored into each (fire) commissioner’s consideration of their people’s availability,” he said.

“Not only will they be absent for the period they are in the United States, but they will also need to spend two weeks in quarantine on return to Australia.”

Queensland will not send anyone because the state is about to enter their fire season and Victoria will not assist due to the health crisis. New South Wales, the ACT, and Western Australia are considering their options.

The final decision is up to each state and territory, but Ellis said he is optimistic Australia will either meet or come close to the requested number.

California has asked for help to arrive by September 6.

It is possible that the fire authorities in Australia may be in a very awkward position. During their extraordinarily busy 2019-2020 summer bushfire season, the U.S. deployed more than 200 U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior wildland fire staff to the Australian Bushfire response.

Firefighters in Australia asked to travel to America could think they would be entering a more risky environment by accepting an assignment where the COVID-19 death rate is 21 times higher per 100,000 population — 2.63 in Australia compared to 56.12 in the U.S. The death rate in Canada is less than half of the U.S. rate, 24.75.

Australia and New Zealand sent 44 fire specialists to assist the United States in 2008, and 68 in 2015. They may have helped out in other years also.

The California National Guard and active duty soldiers from the U.S. Army are being mobilized for firefighting duty in the U.S.

United States is seeking firefighting help from Canada and Australia

Incident Management Teams arrive in Victoria, Australi
File photo of Incident Management Teams from the United States arriving in Victoria, Australia. Photo posted February 11, 2020 by Emergency Management Victoria.

The United State is reaching out to Canada and Australia, hoping to get more than 130 firefighters to assist with the battling the 93 uncontained wildfires in the country.

In spite of the travel difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group is “working on a request for 55 overhead wildland fire personnel from Australia and about four to five crews from Canada”, said Kari Cobb, an Acting Public Affairs Officer at the National Interagency Fire Center. In the United States, hand crews usually consist of 20 people.

If the Australian’s accept the assignment, they will be leaving a continent where the virus has been nearly controlled, to come to a country where the opposite is true.

The international assistance has worked in both directions. In July, 2008, 44 Australian and New Zealand firefighters came to the United States to assist with fires in California. The first deployment of firefighters from Australia to the U.S. was in 2000.

Although Australia is no stranger to wildfires, the 2019-2020 season was one of the worst fire seasons on record. Major bushfires began in June, 2019, and by September were stronger, more intense, and more frequent. The fire situation continued to worsen, and by November, Australia requested international assistance to suppress the thousands of fires on the landscape.

Over a span of four months, the United States responded to the request for firefighters by providing personnel from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. In total, The U.S. deployed more than 200 USFS and DOI wildland fire staff to the Australian Bushfire response.

Alberta hired an additional 200 wildland firefighters this year

An Incident Management Team developed a response plan for the COVID-19 pandemic

fire camp in Alberta
A fire camp in Alberta. Photo by Alberta Wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire has hired an extra 200 firefighters for the 2020 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their objectives in wildfire suppression remain to contain the spread of a fire spread by 10:00 a.m. the following day, and to initiate suppression before the fire exceeds two hectares (4.9 acres) in size.

Like their counterparts in the United States, the agency tasked an Incident Management Team to develop a response plan to ensure they can safely and effectively manage wildfires during the pandemic. They reviewed how the agency fights wildfire and adopted best practices on physical distancing, hygiene, travel, and isolation.

All firefighters will complete a screening form prior to starting each shift.

Special procedures have been established for fire camps:

  • There will be greater availability of hand washing stations at all wildfire facilities.
  • Surfaces in washrooms and common areas will be cleaned more frequently.
  • The number of people gathering in one location will be limited (for example: outdoor dining will be encouraged).
  • Physical distancing measures will be observed where possible. Training will be conducted by webinar and in smaller groups rather than in one large central location.
  • Buffet-style meals will be discontinued. Food will instead be plated and served, or individually bagged.
  • Staff quarters will be reduced to single room occupancy in permanent camps or single occupancy tents.
  • The use of contracted camps, hotels and tents will be increased to supplement our operations when needed.
  • When traveling in vehicles and helicopters, where physical distancing is not an option, additional precautionary measures will be taken, including ensuring all parties wear appropriate facial covering/non-medical masks.
  • New protocols will ensure equipment and frequently-touched surfaces in vehicles and helicopters are sanitized regularly.
  • Camp contractors must meet new requirements to protect staff. This includes requirements for meal service and cleaning, as well as providing additional facilities and equipment as needed to reduce the risk of contamination.
  • The health of staff will be monitored regularly and those suspected of infection will be immediately isolated and treated.

A fire ban was introduced in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta as well as in Alberta Provincial Parks to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires and help firefighters focus on existing wildfires. An off-highway vehicle restriction was also introduced using a phased approach based on hazard. The fines for not complying with a fire ban or OHV restriction were doubled, to further reduce the number of human-caused wildfires.

Alberta firefighters social distance
Photo by Alberta Wildfire.

In addition to these deterrents, the Government of Alberta announced an investment of $5 million to create an extra 200 firefighting positions. An additional $20 million in FireSmart funding was announced to go towards projects that will reduce the risk to communities caused by wildfire.

The English Fire burns over 71,000 acres east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

47 kilometers east of Prince Albert

map English Fire Prince Albert Saskatchewan
The map shows the location of heat detected by a satellite on the English Fire in Saskatchewan from May 8 through 4:18 a.m. CDT on May 18.

A wildfire named “English” by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment has burned over 71,000 acres (28,800 hectares) 30 miles (47 km) east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. GPS perimeter data was collected by the agency on May 16. The fire has been burning since May 8.

From Global News at 12:42 p.m. May 18, 2020:

The Saskatchewan government issued two wildfire alerts for communities northeast of Prince Albert on Sunday.

The alerts apply to the RM of Garden River the RM of Torch River specifically.

According to the government website the advisories were issued because of “wildfire[s] that [have] serious potential to cause emergency situations for the public.”
It said fires are burning in Fort a la Corne Forest and along the southwest edge of the Torch River area.

Residents in both rural municipalities are asked to “prepare and be ready to take action should an evacuation be required.”

The advisories say residents in Meath Park, Weirdale, Smeaton, Snowden and Shipman should close doors, windows and vents.

Increasing fire weather severity expected to bring extreme conditions to areas of Canada’s western provinces

Conditions in June and July are expected to be well above average.

Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast May, 2020

Forecasts are showing that fire weather severity in the western provinces of Canada will be increasing in May, and by June will be in the Extreme category in large areas of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Northwest Territories.

Conditions in June and July are expected to be well above average, according to data from the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System provided by the Canadian Meteorological Centre, a branch of Environment Canada.

Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast June, 2020 Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast July, 2020