AFTER battling some of the most devastating bushfires in South Australia’s history, a local Country Fire Service (CFS) volunteer recently took his firefighting efforts overseas as wildfires raged in North America.
Andrews Farm resident Gerry Thomson was selected as one of six South Australians to travel as part of SA’s first-ever deployment to North America in July, to help fight more than 150 wildfires in British Columbia (BC), Canada.
Mr Thomson, who worked in a logistics role, said the Australian contingent – which comprised 52 people – received a call from the BC Wildfire Service and immediately set off to help battle the fires.
“There are agreements between BC Wildfire and Australia that we will deploy and assist each other, when necessary,” he said.
“They had so many fires, and so many towns were being evacuated, that they called for assistance pretty quickly.”
The team worked two 14-day rotations – with just two days off in between – and worked as much as 14-17 hours per day.
Mr Thomson said he fought the Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday bushfires, and the conditions in Canada were similar, but some key environmental differences made fighting the fire challenging.
“I guess it was a little bit similar, but the vegetation types and the fire activity were a lot different,” he said.
“The fires burning in the forest made them particularly intense, and as it’s a mountainous country, getting access to the fires was really tough.”
The size of the fires were some of the worst seen in BC history, with eight of the 150 fires combining to form a plateau, which covered around 600,000 hectares.
The 2015 Pinery bushfire covered roughly 85,000 hectares.
Having joined the CFS more than 35 years ago, Mr Thomson currently serves as the deputy group officer of the Para Group, which services the One Tree Hill, Dalkeith, Virginia, Tea Tree Gully and Salisbury localities.
He has received the Australian Fire Service Medal – the highest honour in the CFS – while also serving on a state response unit.
“I do it for the enjoyment of the challenge,” Mr Thomson said.
“When people are walking away, you’re walking towards it.
“It (the BC trip) shows how far CFS volunteers can go, through the training and opportunities presented to them.”