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Local firefighters join team headed to western Canada to fight wildfires

  • Trees burned by a wildfire are seen in Williams Lake, British Columbia, on Monday. Four Franklin County wildland firefighters will be among the 16 from Massachusetts to travel north this week to help British Columbian firefighters combat a series of wildfire outbreaks. The Canadian Press via AP



Recorder Staff
Thursday, August 03, 2017

BOSTON – Four Franklin County wildland firefighters will be among the 16 from Massachusetts to travel north this week to help British Columbian firefighters combat a series of wildfire outbreaks.

Across British Columbia, Canada, over 110 active wildfires are burning across at least 1 million acres, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes.

Other nations, including Mexico and possibly New Zealand will also be sending firefighters to these blazes, said David Celino, chief fire warden for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

The four local DCR staff members who are part of this state contingent are Robin Armstrong of Conway, Nathaniel Cowan and Zachary Favreau, both of Orange, and Joseph Nawrocki of New Salem.

According to Celino, who is a former Colrain fire chief, all those going out to combat these out-of-control fires must pass a physical fitness test and are required to take a 40-hour wildland fire training course. Celino said the 16 men from Massachusetts will be joined by four more firefighters from New Hampshire. They will meet in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, before flying to British Columbia, for a 14-day stay.

In British Columbia, they will direct fire suppression methods, work on the fire line, build fire breaks and try to contain the fires. They will also work to protect important structures. Because of the rugged terrain, the crews will sleep in tents or in remote fire camps.

“This is the first time for us to send a state unit to a fire in western Canada,” said Celino, adding that they had helped fight blazes in Quebec. “The weather (in western Canada) is not cooperating with them. They’re planning for this to be a long-term venture.”

While the whole trip is 16 to 17 days, the firefighters are not allowed to stay with the wildfires for more than 14 days, for health and safety reasons. Celino said Massachusetts started sending firefighters to wildfires out-of-state in 1985 and have been doing it ever since.

He said all who are going are state DCR or Department of Fish and Game employees. They are paid as state employees for their work, and the state later bills the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact for reimbursement. Celino said the Compact goes back to 1949, when Maine needed more help to control firefighters than it had available in-state. “They realized they needed a mutual system — that no province can do it all themselves,” said Celino.