Katoomba-based Fire and Rescue NSW Metro West 3 zone commander Lindsay West at the fire control centre camp in Cariboo fire district in British Columbia, Canada, last week. A helicopter pilot prepares to fill another load of water to drop on a huge wildfire burning in Puntzi Lake in north-western Canada. A team of 102 Australian firefighters, including Lindsay West, are currently in Canada providing assistance.
A Katoomba firefighter is helping battle a bushfire crisis across three states in Canada.
Australia has sent a 102-strong team of firefighters and senior incident controllers to help combat the spreading wildfires, which have already forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people and destroyed dozens of properties.
Among the Aussie contingent is Katoomba-based Lindsay West, the Fire and Rescue NSW zone commander of Metro West 3, which includes the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Lithgow.
Mr West told the Gazette on Friday that he is part of a small all-Australian team that took over as incident managers of the Puntzi Lake wildfire in British Columbia’s heavily forested interior plateau last week. The area is about 500km northwest of Vancouver.
Mr West said the initial briefing his team was given revealed how different Canadian fire conditions are to ours.
“In some areas they have ground fuel loads of 100 tonnes per hectare, which is outrageous to us,” he said.
“They are saying it is an 8100-hectare wildfire and there is a possibility of further lightning strikes, triggering new fires.
“This fire grew nearly six times in size between Friday [July 17] and Saturday, increasing from 12 to 70 square km.
“The British Columbia Wildfire Management Branch classified it as a rank 4/5 wildfire and a fire of that rank causes entire trees to candle and spreads by crowning [burning into the tops of trees].
“Crews leave the fire control centre, about 3.5 hours’ drive from the fire, at 7am each day and return at 7.30pm.”
He said most of the firefighting was done by air or on foot and there was not a fire engine to be seen.
For residents remaining near Puntzi Lake there has been some relief of late.
“Rain last weekend allowed crews to contain 30 per cent of the fire, mainly on its southwest flank and now the fire is about 70 per cent contained,” Mr West said.
“But while rain and cooler weather is welcome, [weather bureau and Canadian wildfire and forest service] officials say it’s not sticking around long enough to make a major difference.
“There are more than 250 active fires still burning across British Columbia.”
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