Cottingham sent to fight wildfires in Australia

Chris Clegg
Joe McWilliams
South Peace News

One High Prairie man is doing his part to help the drastic wildfire situation in Australia.

High Prairie assistant fire chief Jason Cottingham was one of a few chosen in Canada to help the country.

“It’s phenomenal,” said fire chief Trevor Cisaroski at town council’s meeting Jan. 14.

“It’s well-deserved of his skill and abilities.”

Cottingham, who left Jan. 6, is one of five individuals from the Lesser Slave Lake area who made the trip.

Melanie Morin, of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg, says the Canadians will be based in New South Wales and will be called “incident management specialists”, meaning they will not be expected to do front line firefighting.

The request complies with the help Australia requested under the terms of a mutual aid agreement between the countries, it is what CIFFC arranges.

Four times since the agreement began in 2015, Australia has sent help to Canada.

Cottingham participated in orientation Jan. 8. He has updated High Prairie and area residents on the High Prairie and Area Discussion Board.

On Jan. 7, Cottingham posted “16-hour flight from Vancouver last night. Pretty powerful moment when the Steward announced we were on the plane and all the passengers broke into applause. Arrived Melbourne an hour or so ago. US and Canadian firefighters briefed at airport and moved to their local forestry school for accommodations and familiarization for the next 36 hours. Amazingly strongly and appreciative of us being here to assist. 25C today and windy with smoky conditions.”

He made a second post Jan. 14.

“Arrived on incident a few days ago. The Ovens fire, 76,000 ha with multiple communities and homes threatened. Some on evacuation alert. Temperatures in the mid-30s and heavy smoke filling the valleys. Very steep terrain making access to firefighting difficult. All firefighting is done with vehicles and aircraft. The Incident Command Post is run by a multi agencies … Parks, Forest Service, Australian Fire, municipalities, military, EMS … neat to see. The people are amazing, always appreciative, smiles, hand shakes, even under the stress of a large fire on their door step. The Aussies love good coffee:) and I had an icy pole … Aussie for a freezie.”

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