Maniwaki firefighters heading south to battle Australia wildfires

As many as seven firefighters from the Maniwaki, Que., area heading to Australia later this week to help fight wildfires that have ravaged the continent for months.

They'll be part of a group of 20 Quebec firefighters helping with relief efforts there.

"It's important for Australia, but it's important for Quebec, too," said Stéphane Caron, prevention and communications coordinator at Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) who runs the firefighting base in Maniwaki from which the crews will be chosen.

Caron said offering a helping hand now ensures that if Quebec ever has its own crisis, that kindness would be paid back with international support. 

Australia first asked Canada for help to manage the fires back in November.

Canada has deployed several teams in the past few months, including one group that's back already after a 38-day mission.

The Quebec team will be fighting fires for 31 days, Caron said. 

Inundated by volunteers

So far, the Australia fires have claimed the lives of at least 27 people. More than 103,000 square kilometres of land — an area roughly twice the size of Nova Scotia — has been scorched, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes.

Caron said the firefighters will be working in an unfamiliar climate, one that's far different from the Quebec wilderness and its many lakes.

He said a large number of first responders volunteered, hoping to use it as a learning experience. 

"We had many, many positive responses. We were ready when Australia asked for help," Caron told Radio-Canada in a French-language interview.

It's still uncertain exactly how many Maniwaki firefighters will go, he said, as the team hasn't been finalized.

Caron said SOPFEU received so many requests from volunteers to make the trip that more Quebec firefighters may be heading south soon, depending on how much help Australia needs.

On top of the firefighters, Caron said three other Quebecers, including a forest fire management specialist and members of his staff, will be traveling to Australia to lend their skills to the relief effort.