B.C. firefighters heading to Oregon to battle wildfires

More than 200 B.C. firefighters and support staff are heading to Oregon to help battle the wildfires that are ravaging the state.

The firefighters are being sent to Redmond, Oregon, and will be deployed as needed to help with the dire wildfire situation, according to a joint statement from the premier’s office and the Ministry of Forests.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the United States hard with more than 201,000 deaths, B.C. Wildfire Service personnel will remain within their own “bubble” and conduct their firefighting operations separately from American firefighters. The firefighters will also have to quarantine for 14 days when they return to Canada.

The B.C. government is also in contact with officials in Oregon and Washington about possibly sending 200 more firefighters in the coming days and weeks.

“Over 800 B.C. Wildfire Service personnel volunteered to go into someone else’s community and to someone else’s fire to do what they can to make sure people are safe,” Premier John Horgan said in a statement. “That is just extraordinary, and it speaks volumes about our compassion and our commitment to helping each other. I’m very proud of those individuals.”

The American request for assistance was made through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which co-ordinates the sharing of firefighting resources between B.C. and other jurisdictions. The B.C. firefighters are among a total of 300 Canadian firefighters being sent to the U.S. to help fight the fires.

Edwin Gillis, fire centre manager with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, said the firefighters will be joining 40 to 50 “overhead personnel” supervisors, specialists and technical experts from Ontario, Manitoba, B.C. and Alberta who are leaving today.

Alberta Wildfire tweeted Tuesday that 45 crew members would be dispatched to Oregon, where gusting winds and low humidity Wednesday fueled blazes that have so far killed at least eight people, destroyed more than 1,000 homes and scorched more than 4,000 square kilometres.

Smoke from what officials and political leaders say is the worst wildfire season in recent memory blankets the continent, creating some of the worst air quality in the world in southern B.C.

“Here in British Columbia, we’ve been fortunate to have experienced a moderate wildfire season, but our neighbours to the south have not been so lucky,” said Forests Minister Doug Donaldson. “B.C. firefighters who are willing to be deployed out of the country during this challenging time deserve a lot of credit for their professionalism.”

All firefighting costs will be covered by the jurisdiction that requested the resources, which will also cover the firefighters’ quarantine time when they return to Canada.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

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