Jeff Austin, air attack officer for the Cariboo Fire Centre is in Australia to help during their wildfire season.
“I was working as Operations chief during the 2017/18 fire seasons and worked closely with Aussie crews, Aussie aviation specialists and fire behaviour specialists. They sent us quality people and I felt we needed to do the same for them.”
Austin says they work from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day on a five days on two off, five on and one-off schedule. Unlike in the Cariboo Fire Centre, Austin is working as an air attack specialist, he says.
“We are flying a lot, bombing fires anywhere from four to nine hours a day,” he says. “I am on the front lines supporting ground crews from the air.”
Austin supervises and directs two Blackhawk bucket ships, one sky crane, one super Huey and two fire boss skimmer aircraft, he says.
When the Free Press connected with Austin they’d just flown nine hours the day before to deliver 1.3 million litres to the fireline to support ground crews or Firee’s as they’re called there, he says.
“I have been firefighting for 41 seasons all but three based out of the Cariboo. The Chilcotin mainly, which is my home. There are significant differences down here. So, you have to stay flexible.”
Local people have been very appreciative, he says, adding he’s had nothing but positive interactions with people.
“This town I’m in, Merimbula, is just getting residents and tourists back in. It was basically a ghost town when I first arrived, no restaurants for food. [It was] mostly evacuated, not much traffic which helped immensely with learning how to drive the wrong way in round abouts and traffic,” he says. “My wife Jo is holding down the farm during this cold snap and doing fine at it. But 40 days is a long shift.”