The first group of Canadians that went over to fight the country’s 2019-2020 wildfires were from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and various federal parks. (Courtesy of Kevin Cochrane)

The first group of Canadians that went over to fight the country’s 2019-2020 wildfires were from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and various federal parks. (Courtesy of Kevin Cochrane)

‘We could see fire all over the landscape’: Vancouver Island man recounts helping crews in Australia

Kevin Cochrane of the Coastal Fire Centre spent 38 days Down Under

Kevin Cochrane has returned to Parksville after 38 days of co-ordinating firefighting efforts in Australia.

The Coastal Fire Centre wildfire aviation technician was part of the first deployment of Canadian firefighting experts sent to combat raging wildfires in the southeastern part of Australia.

Cochrane said he realized through watching the news the severity of the situation in Australia, and volunteered to go in the event of a call for help from Canadian fire experts.

Sure enough, the request for resources came through, and on Dec. 3, 2019 he flew out of Parksville, alongside firefighters and experts from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“Being through that type of situation here, back in B.C., with some busy fire years over the past five years, I had a pretty good idea of what they were going through and knew the kind of help that they needed. It was an easy decision,” said Cochrane.

“Our flight in, we could see fire all over the landscape, pretty much. Very smoky.”

The crew he was on worked 12-to-14 hour days, working a rotation of five days on, one day off, and five days on, two days off.

READ MORE: Canada will consider more aid for Australia as bushfires burn across country

“We were kind of thrown right into it, which was pretty much to be expected with everything they had going on there. So there wasn’t a lot of time to get settled in there. It was down there, got our briefings, then right into work,” said Cochrane.

Cochrane worked as an air operations manager, co-ordinating the deployment of planes that worked to battle the fires that continued to grow. He and his team were based out of Glen Innes, approximately 600 kilometres north of Sydney, in the province of New South Wales.

“Everybody was really upbeat, everybody was really focused. Everybody was really aware of basically what was at stake, the amount of fires that were out there, the amount of resources or infrastructure that was threatened – there was certainly a real co-ordinated effort among all the folks within the fire centre,” said Cochrane.

“It seemed that they were quite happy to have us Canadians down there to give them a hand. They were constantly giving us their praise for us being able to come down, and giving them a hand and helping them out in the way that we did. It was always good to hear the positive feedback coming from those folks as well.”

In the six weeks Cochrane was in Australia, 257 new fires broke out. Cochrane estimates their crew was able to put out around 245 of them.

“It feels really good. Any time you can help out folks that are in that desperate a need, it really does make you feel good that you’re able to do that. And we heard over and over again the thanks and appreciation from just the average people on the streets, to the coworkers that we were working with,” said Cochrane.

”I would do it again any time for sure.”

emily.vance@pqbnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

Australia firesfirefightersParksville

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo RCMP hope the public can help identify a woman driving a Ford pickup who fled the scene following and collision on Wellington Road Tuesday. (File photo)
Nanaimo RCMP seek driver alleged to have fled from hit-and-run on Wellington Road

Driver allegedly flees scene after head-on crash between two Ford pickups

A Canada-wide warrant has been issued for Romey O’Neill. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP seek man wanted on immigration warrant

Romey O’Neill, 26, rented Kia sedan in Nanaimo, car was later reported stolen

Harewood has a new play park, which opened recently at the corner of Cambie Road and Park Avenue. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
New play park opens in Harewood in Nanaimo

Cambie Park playground developed from empty lot

Camp residents were escorted by police into the camp and given about 10 to 15 minutes to gather their belongings and vacate the camp, which is now closed. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City dismantling Wesley Street homeless encampment after fire

Fire broke out at about 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ staff and trustees held their annual general board meeting Dec. 2 via Microsoft Teams. (SD68 image)
Nanaimo Ladysmith school district chairperson retains role, new vice-chair chosen

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools held annual general meeting Wednesday

Camp residents were escorted by police into the camp and given about 10 to 15 minutes to gather their belongings and vacate the camp, which is now closed. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City dismantling Wesley Street homeless encampment after fire

Fire broke out at about 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty ventilators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of paymens for household incomes up to $175,000

KIJHL games have been postponed through Dec. 31. (File photo)
KIJHL postpones all games through end of 2020

Due to provincial health orders, games up to Dec. 31 have been pushed back

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Former Kelowna social worker arrested for allegedly stealing from foster kids

Robert Riley Saunders was arrested in Alberta and will be brought back to B.C. to face charges

Lake Trail Middle School in Courtenay has closed again due to a threat Friday (Dec 4). File photo
Island middle school closed for the second time in a week due to threat

On Nov. 26, Lake Trail Middle School was closed for a day while a similar incident occurred.

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

Most Read