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Foreign firefighters battling blazes, fatigue and mosquitoes in Canada – National

Hunter Sousa, an 18-year-old Maine native, celebrated his high school graduation by jumping in a truck and heading to Nova Scotia to fight the largest bushfires in the state’s history.

Sousa works as a firefighter on duty for the Maine Forest Service, but has never fought a fire before. The call from his boss came on Thursday.

“They said we would meet in Bangor on Friday night, but I had my graduation on Friday night, so I graduated, got my diploma, drove to Bangor, met the rest of the crew, and then I went to Nova Scotia,” he said in a recent interview.

Souza is one of many foreign firefighters on emergency duty as Canada battles its worst wildfire season in recent memory. Coming from 10 countries on 5 continents, they have battled fire, fatigue and mosquitoes in unfamiliar environments for more than 14 consecutive days.

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For Souza, the main task at the Lake Barrington fire in southwestern Nova Scotia was to map the extent of the fire by walking around the edge of the burnt area, called the “black,” and marking the perimeter with an app. Met. You can turn off not only his phone, but also the occasional hotspot.

For some other firefighters, a trip to Canada gave them a front-row seat to hell on a scale that few have ever seen before.

Eric Flores, leader of a team of more than 100 French firefighters deployed to Quebec, said the fires were much larger and more difficult than the fires he usually sees in his home.

Click to play video: 'Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanks wildfire first responders during visit to NS'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanks wildfire first responders during visit to NS

Flores was stationed in the Maurice region of Quebec, in an area near an indigenous village accessible only by helicopter. In her recent telephone interview, Flores said the area is wet and marshy, but the fire travels through underground root systems and even into the water.

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“Even though my feet are in the water, the water is on fire,” he said.

Flores and his team were tasked with rescuing Obegiwan, the northern village of Attikamek, from a 150-square-kilometer fire that spun out of control. He said the fire brigade is focused on keeping the Southern Line close to the village by using firebreaks and hoses to dig out smoldering embers before they reach the surface vegetation.

“Because there is a huge tree there, the fire immediately presents an unimaginable spectacle, because when the fire starts coming out of the earth, it attacks the tree, rises to the top, and rises 30, 40 meters. There are trees, and very quickly there are large fires,” he said.

As of Wednesday evening, firefighters had successfully contained the blaze from the community, he said. But it hasn’t been very successful in keeping down the “incredible numbers” of flies and mosquitoes, which he describes as his biggest challenge.

“Sometimes they get eaten alive.”

The group said in an email that there were 1,477 foreign firefighters deployed through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta as of Thursday. This number includes firefighters from Mexico, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica, Spain and the United States.

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200 South African Firefighters Arrive in Edmonton

One of the largest contingents, made up of 400 South Africans, was sent to Alberta where they worked 14 straight days, followed by four days off.

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Strike team leader Vincent Rubisi said South Africans had to learn how to fight fires in a country with different vegetation and climate.

In Edson, Alta, where he works, the focus is on securing the perimeter of the fire and working slowly inward, he said.

“In South Africa, firefighting is more direct,” he says.

The contingent includes coordinators such as Antoinette Gini, who help organize the team on site and ensure that the mission is understood and appropriate information is communicated.

Click to play video: 'Wildfires: Canada, U.S. expand pact to help each other fight fires'

Wildfires: Canada and U.S. expand pact to cooperate on fires with each other

South Africans are here to help, but the Canadian experience is mutually beneficial, she says, learning about North American resources and techniques used in things like fire mapping.

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“We’ve learned a lot while building relationships, engaging and working together,” she said in a recent interview.

The firefighters work hard, but they all said they enjoyed the experience as well. Souza appreciates the beauty of Nova Scotia and the support of its residents, and Rubishi says he enjoyed collaborating with his foreign colleagues.

Flores said the French crew had planned to find time on Wednesday night to celebrate the holiday of the French music festival with a little celebration and beer. He said the party would end early, pointing out that firefighters would have to wake up at 5 a.m. the next day for another long day in the Quebec woods.

© 2023 Canadian Press

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