A group of specially trained Canadian firefighters will forego Christmas with their families in order to lend a hand with Australia’s devastating bushfire.
The team of 22 high-level personnel deployed from Canada to Australia on Tuesday and will spend 38 days offering expertise across a range of areas including planning, aviation and operations, China Daily reported.
An early start to Australia’s bushfire season has already caused six fatalities and the destruction of hundreds of homes and countless other structures, while wreaking havoc across vast swathes of bushland in the eastern states of New South Wales and Queensland.
Throughout most of November, thousands of local firefighters were involved in the exhausting effort of protecting lives and property and bringing blazes under control.
However with the summer season only just commencing, fears for what is yet to come prompted Australian authorities to reach out for assistance.
Canada’s British Colombia Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson described the Canadian firefighters’ willingness to leave their families during the holiday season as a testament to their dedication and professionalism.
“During British Columbia’s devastating 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons, Australian fire personnel responded to our calls for assistance through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre,” Donaldson said.
“We greatly appreciated their assistance during those difficult years, and we welcome the opportunity to help out our Australian friends now.”
More than 10% of the area covered by New South Wales national parks has been burned in this season’s bushfires, including 20% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area, state government data obtained by Guardian Australia has revealed.
The amount of bushland destroyed within NSW national parks dwarfs that of the entire previous fire season, when 80,000 hectares were lost. Ten times that amount has burnt since July.
The damage caused by fire in the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area in the north of the state is a “global tragedy” and an “absolute crisis” a Nature Conservation Council ecologist says.
The chief executive of the council, Chris Gambian, said the loss of 800,000 hectares in NSW national parks, out of a total of 1.9m hectares burnt in the state since 1 July, “changes the calculus of nature conservation in the state.”
The “monumental” scale of the fires meant conservation of land would now be “more important than ever,” Gambian said.
“National parks are the best way to protect species and landscapes, but when your national parks have been decimated, you have to look at the total picture and other measures.”
As well as the losses in the Blue Mountains, concern has centred on the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area, a collection of reserves of subtropical rainforest that span 366,500 hectares across NSW and Queensland.
Mark Graham, an ecologist with the council who specialises in fire and biodiversity, said the fires there were “a global tragedy.”
“I don’t think that’s over-egging it,” Graham said.
Last week, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre expressed concern about the Gondwana fires and asked the federal government whether the damage was affecting their universal values.
Twelve of 28 NSW world heritage reserves have been at least partly affected by fire.
Graham said until a week ago Barrington Tops and the New England national park were the two largest blocks of Gondwana that had not been affected by fire. That changed after lightning strikes sparked fires in those areas.
“To be really blunt, it’s an absolute crisis,” Graham said.
“Because they’ve been permanently wet and have never burnt right through, they’re like mountaintop arcs of ancient biodiversity.
“These fires have directly impacted upon the values they were listed for.”