Assisting with bushfires in Australia
By Stephanie Koroscil
In February 2020, I travelled to Australia to assist during their worst wildfire season on record—it’s come to be known in Australia as “The Black Summer”. My deployment was part of a much larger relief effort, during which Canadian wildfire agencies sent 242 fire management staff, including 13 personnel from Parks Canada, in a series of deployments over the course of 118 days.
My story started back in November, when an Australian friend visited me (and Pukaskwa National Park) in Northern Ontario. While hiking through snow along the frozen shoreline of Lake Superior, we discussed how similar and different our careers in wildfire management are within our respective countries. At the time, Queensland and New South Wales were gripped with devastating wildfires; my friend explained that due to drought and seasonality, her home state of Victoria was likely next. As the Australian fire season progressed through December, she returned home to numerous, widespread wildfires in and around her hometown and work location. I followed the media updates and her personal stories through January and early February.
Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, their summer and wildfire season occurs during the Canadian winter. I was deployed during a time when I would normally be writing reports, updating planning documents, resting, and preparing for the Canadian fire season.
I flew to Melbourne, Victoria, and was dispatched to the Tambo Complex of wildfires in the East Gippsland region with an Incident Management Team from the United States. Coincidentally, I was dispatched to my Australian friend’s hometown! We arrived as the Tambo Complex fires were receiving rain, and spent most of our deployment focused on mop-up (putting out remaining hot spots) and wildfire recovery work (inventorying impacts to cultural sites, ecological integrity, private property, reclaiming bulldozer lines, removing hazardous trees, etc.). Our Australian hosts had been managing this complex of fires for nearly two months by the time we arrived; our presence allowed many of the locals to take some much-needed time off, or at least time away from the Incident Control Centre.
I came away from this experience with new knowledge of how fire management differs across programs, and internationally. I experienced new technology—Victoria has remote sensing and line scanning technology that provides live updates of fire perimeters and hot spots throughout the day, even through smoke! Additionally, I witnessed a level of interagency coordination within emergency management and a culture of volunteerism in Australia that are truly impressive. All this aside, the people were the best part of this experience. I was welcomed onto the American team with open arms, and we were all warmly welcomed into the extended Victorian bushfire family. I left with many new friends, mentors, and contacts from both Australia and the United States.
I am grateful for this opportunity, and that I was able to assist during such a difficult wildfire season in Australia.