About 200 Canadian firefighters gathered at the Deschutes County fairgrounds Saturday for an orientation and basic fire safety training before being deployed to help fight the wildfires burning in Oregon and California.
The fire crews, who came from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Manitoba, wore their red or yellow fire jumpsuits as they practiced creating a shelter using a fireproof sleeping bag.
The firefighters took turns quickly wrapping themselves in the sleeping bags as if they were caught in a fast-moving fire.
Fire shelter training is not required in Canada, but is in the United States.
It was a small hurdle for the Canadian crews to pass before they deployed Sunday to the fire lines, where nearly 1 million acres are burning in Oregon and 3.3 million acres are burning in California.
The firefighters were tested for COVID-19 prior to arriving in the United States.
Philip Bruner, 31, a firefighter from Alberta, said the Canadian crews are familiar with fire shelters, and Saturday made for good practice in case of an emergency.
“We hear quite a bit about it,” Bruner said.
Bruner is familiar with Oregon, having spent a few winters skiing at Mt. Bachelor, but this will be his first time fighting fires in the state. The only other time he fought fires in the United States was 2015 in Idaho, he said.
“It’s sort of bittersweet to come out to Oregon,” Bruner said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance that I am back here.”
Ken Schmid, a fire management officer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told the Canadian fire crews Saturday that they are needed and appreciated.
Schmid said the United States has a record 33,000 firefighters battling fires across the nation, mostly in the Western states.
The crews are spread thin and getting fatigued, which makes assistance from Canada that much more important, he said.
Additional help has come from the U.S. Military and
National Guard. Fire officials are also reaching out to Mexico.
By the end of summer, the numbers of firefighters decrease since many are college students who return to classes, Schmid said.
“Our numbers start going down, but the fire activity and the fire needs haven’t gone down,” he said.
The Canadian crews will work on the fire lines for 14 days, giving American crews a respite.
“Hopefully, the Canadian folks can provide some relief,” Schmid said.
Kim Janowsky, a wildfire officer with the British Columbia Wildfire Service, said Saturday it has been an uneventful fire season in Canada, which has made it possible for them to share more resources.
“It’s been a relatively quiet fire season for us, which has given us the flexibility,” Janowsky said.
Janowsky also sees the effort as giving back to the United States, which helped battle devastating fires in British Columbia in 2017 and 2018.
British Columbia has about 1,400 firefighters, and 880 were willing to assist the United States, Janowsky said. The 200 that made the trip met certain requirements, like having a passport.
Offering help in any way is the main goal, Janowsky said.
“We as a country said we have to go down and help,” he said. “When your neighbor is having a bad day, you go down and help them out where you can.”