Mexican firefighters began arriving in Canada last week to help deal with an “unprecedented” fire season in the province of British Columbia.
Fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said the 108 Mexican firefighters who arrived Friday will be deployed to fight two fires near the city of Williams Lake.
As of that day there were more than 100 wildfires burning in the province and 4,000 people employed to fight them, more than double the usual number.
Skrepnek said the international help is vital and allows Canadian crews to recharge. Firefighters from the United States, Australia and New Zealand are also helping battle the province’s fires.
He forecast the situation would become “dire” over the next month, August being the busiest month for wildfires.
“Realistically, this situation is likely to get worse before it gets better so having these resources means a lot,” he said.
Of the five crews of Mexican firefighters now in Canada, half have had experience with international deployment, said Juan Villa of Mexico’s National Forestry Commission, called Conafor.
Last year, Villa sent 42 firefighters to battle the Fort McMurray fire in Alberta. This year, 58 Mexican firefighters travelled to Chile.
The current deployment to Canada is the first time Mexicans have been sent to British Columbia, but many have travelled to other provinces under an agreement between the Canadian forest fire agency and Conafor.
The British Columbia Wildfire Service says the province has seen 892 wildfires since April 1. They have burned 591,000 hectares, an area larger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island, said information officer Skrepnek, and fighting them has cost US $180 million.
Nearly 7,000 people have been displaced from their homes.
Villa said Friday his Mexican crews were eager to begin work, and learn.
“This is a huge experience for us. Many firefighters learn a lot here. Of course, they’re trained, and they can do their work, but I think if we strengthen the international relationship on fire, it’s good for everybody. Not just Mexico.”