Australia to pay for NWT firefighters who’ve gone ‘Down Under’ to help with wildfires

L-R: Marlon Labach, Raelene Lamalice, Spencer Porter (photo courtesy of ENR)

Northwest Territories taxpayers will initially pay for four firefighters who have headed to Australia to help with the country’s devastating wildfires.

But the GNWT will eventually be reimbursed for their services.

That’s according to Mike Gravel, director of forest management with the Government of the Northwest Territories Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).

“Canada has an agreement with Australia for this type of situation, the sharing of resources. Each agency will cover the cost of their people while they are deployed. At the end of the deployment, there will be an accounting exercise where the financials will be recovered,” Gravel said. “Australia is paying for the cost of the firefighters and at the end of the day we’ll get reimbursed for the cost associated to the GNWT.”

Gravel added that Australian firefighters have travelled to B.C. in recent years to help that province with out-of-control wildfires.

There are also agreements between provinces and territories in Canada to share personnel when needed.

The four firefighters who have headed to Australia are Raelene Lamalice of Hay River who is a resource unit leader, air tanker base manager Spencer Porter of Fort Smith, Marlon Labach, an air support group supervisor and Jonathan Williams, an aerial observer.

Labach and Williams both live outside the NWT except during forest fire season.

ENR Minister Shane Thompson, the MLA for Nahendeh, says it’s a proud moment for the NWT.

“In the past, the NWT has also faced difficult fire seasons. We offer our sympathies to the people of Australia and are happy to support them in their time of need. These (NWT) fire specialists will take on critical roles in aviation and planning,” the minister said. “Our staff will be on the ground in Australia for 30 days. I know their experience and training will allow them to make an important contribution and help the people of Australia during this difficult time.”

Williams is to be posted to the state of Southern Australia, while the other three will work in the state of Victoria.

Also in Australia to help with the fires is former Fort Simpson resident Tanya Letcher.

She is a wildfire training specialist with the Alberta government’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development branch.

She also once worked for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) with the Government of the Northwest Territories.

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.