OTTAWA — Another 69 Canadians are heading to Australia this week to help fight the country’s worst bush fires in recent memory.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says the deployment comes after Australia asked for more help.
More than 200 bush fires continue to rage across Australia, with the two most populated states of New South Wales and Victoria bearing the brunt of the damage.
The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre says 27 incident management staff will leave for Melbourne Thursday, followed by two more incident managers and 40 firefighters on the weekend.
This is the sixth wave of Canadians helping out in Australia, bringing the total number to more than 160 people.
The first group of 21 experts left for Australia in early December, and returned to Canada last week.
The latest wave will spend 31 days, all of it in the state of Victoria. Previous groups were deployed to other parts of the country, including Sydney.
“We are all proud of their efforts,” Champagne said on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.
Paul Schnurr, an incident commander with the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry, said he and the other two experts from his province who are part of the latest wave are happy to help.
“Australia has been there for Canada when we needed them on some of our big fires, it feels great to be able to return the favour,” he said in a statement.
The interagency centre, a Winnipeg-based non-profit entity run by federal, provincial and territorial fire management agencies, said in a statement Australian firefighters helped out in Canada in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Australia is suffering a lengthy and deadly wildfire season that began in October, which is several months earlier than usual.
More than seven million hectares across the country have burned, killing 28 people, destroying or damaging more than 3,000 homes, and forcing the largest peacetime evacuation in Australia’s history.
It’s estimated more than half a billion animals have died.
Smoke in Melbourne was so bad Tuesday Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard needed medical attention in a qualifying match at the Australian Open tennis tournament Tuesday, while at least one other match was called off because of the smoke.
Champagne said last week Canada would consider any assistance Australia needs but its government had only asked for additional people so far.
Most of the Canadians who have travelled there to date are helping with managing the response teams, overseeing the use of airplanes, and providing expertise in how the fires will behave.
The United States and New Zealand have also sent firefighters to help.