Locals help with wildfire fight in Australia

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Five people in forest protection from the Lesser Slave Lake area have been helping fight wildfires in Australia in recent weeks as part of a Canadian contingent.

Jason Pankratow was in the first group to go over, says Wildfire Information Officer Leah Lovequist of Alberta Ag & Forestry’s Slave Lake District office. He got back last week. Kevin Parkinson followed a few days later. Russell Murphy and Stephen Willis were in the next crew to fly out, about 10 days ago. Jason Cottingham (from the High Prairie office) left on Jan. 6.

As to what they are (or will be) doing, that information comes from Melanie Morin of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) in Winnipeg. She says most of the Canadian contingent is in New South Wales, with only the latest group (of eight) in the state of Victoria.

They’re all what’s called ‘incident management specialists,’ and as such won’t be doing front-line firefighting.

“They have different roles,” Morin says. “Like tanker base management, fire behaviour specialists, logistics and equipment directors.”

That’s what Australia has requested, and under the terms of a mutual aid agreement between the two countries, that’s what the CIFFC arranges, via its provincial and territorial partners. Four times since the agreement was signed in 2015 Australia has sent resources to help in Canada, including in Alberta in 2019.

The Leader hopes to have an interview with one of the returning Slave Lake personnel in the next week or two.

Stephen Willis, right, heading Down Under.

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