Spencer Verdiel, a Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Park fire management officer spent a moth in Australia assisting in the ongoing battle against the raging bushfires. While in Australia he was based in Kempsey, on the mid-north coast region of New South Wales. His role was to manage the fire crews that were on the ground. (Submitted)

Revelstokian fights fires in Australia

A Parks Canada fire management officer was one of the first Canadians sent to help

For Spencer Verdiel spent Christmas in Australia helping fight bushfires.

A fire management officer for Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, Verdiel said his family was supportive of his decision.

“There was an opportunity to help a different country that was helping us in previous years,” he said. “I thought it was one of the more unique decisions that I would be able to be making.”

Working at an incident site at Kempsey in the mid-north coast region of New South Wales. Verdiel and Jane Park, a fire and vegetation specialist at Banff National Park, worked side by side. They were part of the first group of 22 Canadians to go to Australia to assist with the disaster mid-December.

An unprecedented fire season has claimed at least 33 lives since September, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 26.2 million acres, according to The Associated Press.

READ MORE:BC firefighters to help battle Australian bushfires

Spencer Verdiel, a Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Park fire management officer spent a moth in Australia assisting in the ongoing battle against the raging bushfires. (Submitted)

Verdiel worked as an operations manager, and was in direct communication with the field commanders. Park worked as a planning officer, gathering data and intel to make plans to contain the fire and attempt to predict it’s behaviour.

Park and Verdiel agreed that though there were a lot of similarities to their past experiences fighting fires in Canada, there were a few key differences.

One difference was fire behaviour. Verdiel said that in B.C. the fires are more active on south facing slopes because of sun exposure, but in Australia, with the sun coming from the opposite direction, fires were more active on north facing slopes.

The volatility of the fuels was also more extreme than fighting fires in Canada. Verdiel said during the day sparks and embers could travel up to 35 km and start new blazes.

The firefighters also worked three shifts, day, swing and night shift, whereas Verdiel had more experience with day shifts.

During the swing and night shift, Verdiel said the risk of fire spreading from sparks and embers was lower, so the firefighting tactics were different.

READ MORE: Okanagan team leads animal rescue efforts in Australia

Other differences were technological.

Verdiel said at each location they relied on ground crews using fire trucks to respond to the fire; Canada relies heavily on helicopters.

They also used Remote Sensing and Line Scans to have the most up to date information on the fire activity and perimeter.

“They had the ability to fly random times throughout the day and update our current active fire perimeter using some technology that was able to cut through the smoke,” Verdiel said.

Verdiel was also impressed with how information was shared with the public, who were then able to make “a lot of their own decisions”.

Spencer Verdiel, a Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Park fire management officer and Jane Park, a Parks Canada fire and vegetation specialist in Banff, spent a moth in Australia assisting in the ongoing battle against the raging bushfires. While in Australia they were based in Kempsey, on the mid-north coast region of New South Wales. (Submitted)

READ MORE: B.C.-based firefighting plane crashes in Australia, killing three

While there Park was reminded that the fires in Australia have a greater scope than in Canada, where we have a lot of remote wilderness and very few communities are directly impacted by fires.

“There were human impacts over there that are relatively unfamiliar in my fire management career in terms of the scope and scale of the impacts to communities and people of Australia,” she said.

Verdiel departed to Australia Dec. 3 and returned to Revelstoke Jan. 10.

“Parks Canada is a leader in fire management and is proud to be contributing to the ongoing efforts,” said Megan Bradely, a Parks Canada spokesperson.

READ MORE: Revelstokian sewing for Australia’s wildlife in wake of bushfires


 

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