The first group of Canadians that went over to fight the country’s 2019-2020 wildfires were from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and various federal parks. (Courtesy of Kevin Cochrane)

‘We could see fire all over the landscape’: Vancouver Island man recounts helping crews in Australia

Kevin Cochrane of the Coastal Fire Centre spent 38 days Down Under

Kevin Cochrane has returned to Parksville after 38 days of co-ordinating firefighting efforts in Australia.

The Coastal Fire Centre wildfire aviation technician was part of the first deployment of Canadian firefighting experts sent to combat raging wildfires in the southeastern part of Australia.

Cochrane said he realized through watching the news the severity of the situation in Australia, and volunteered to go in the event of a call for help from Canadian fire experts.

Sure enough, the request for resources came through, and on Dec. 3, 2019 he flew out of Parksville, alongside firefighters and experts from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“Being through that type of situation here, back in B.C., with some busy fire years over the past five years, I had a pretty good idea of what they were going through and knew the kind of help that they needed. It was an easy decision,” said Cochrane.

“Our flight in, we could see fire all over the landscape, pretty much. Very smoky.”

The crew he was on worked 12-to-14 hour days, working a rotation of five days on, one day off, and five days on, two days off.

READ MORE: Canada will consider more aid for Australia as bushfires burn across country

“We were kind of thrown right into it, which was pretty much to be expected with everything they had going on there. So there wasn’t a lot of time to get settled in there. It was down there, got our briefings, then right into work,” said Cochrane.

Cochrane worked as an air operations manager, co-ordinating the deployment of planes that worked to battle the fires that continued to grow. He and his team were based out of Glen Innes, approximately 600 kilometres north of Sydney, in the province of New South Wales.

“Everybody was really upbeat, everybody was really focused. Everybody was really aware of basically what was at stake, the amount of fires that were out there, the amount of resources or infrastructure that was threatened – there was certainly a real co-ordinated effort among all the folks within the fire centre,” said Cochrane.

“It seemed that they were quite happy to have us Canadians down there to give them a hand. They were constantly giving us their praise for us being able to come down, and giving them a hand and helping them out in the way that we did. It was always good to hear the positive feedback coming from those folks as well.”

In the six weeks Cochrane was in Australia, 257 new fires broke out. Cochrane estimates their crew was able to put out around 245 of them.

“It feels really good. Any time you can help out folks that are in that desperate a need, it really does make you feel good that you’re able to do that. And we heard over and over again the thanks and appreciation from just the average people on the streets, to the coworkers that we were working with,” said Cochrane.

”I would do it again any time for sure.”

emily.vance@pqbnews.com

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