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A member of K’atlodeeche First Nation is off to Australia to help that country battle its fire crisis.

Raelene Lamalice is with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), and one of four employees who headed to Australia on Jan. 16 as part of the latest group of Canadians to help fight the historic blazes.

Raelene Lamalice, centre, of the Hay River Reserve is one of several employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources who have been deployed to help fight fires in Australia. Lamalice is pictured at the Vancouver airport on Jan. 16 with other ENR employees Marlon Labach, left, and Spencer Porter as they await their flight to Australia.
Photo courtesy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Lamalice will serve as a resource unit leader. Her job will be to gather and co-ordinate information on a fire and make sure that the planning section stays on top of its requirements.

“I’m excited for it,” she said. “It’s a role that I’ve done a number of times on a fire, so I’m aware of the role I’ll be playing.”

Lamalice is an administrative assistant with ENR’s forest management division, which has offices on the Hay River Reserve where she lives.

She has served outside of the NWT a number of times in a system that shares firefighting resources among various jurisdictions. She filled the same role as a resource unit leader in Alberta in 2016, in B.C. in 2017 and in Ontario in 2018.

However, this will be her first time in Australia.

“I’m thinking it’s the same, just over there,” she said of her role in the firefighting effort.

This is believed to be the first time that the NWT has sent firefighting personnel to Australia.

Lamalice flew from Yellowknife to Vancouver on Jan. 16 and left that evening for the 17-hour, non-stop flight to Australia.

She flew to Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria, and once there she was to be briefed by the Australian government and assigned to a specific fire.

The 28-year-old Lamalice, who had never been to Australia before, is looking forward to helping out that country during its time of crisis.

“Their situation is not the greatest over there,” she said.

On the day that the NWT contingent left for Australia, ENR Minister Shane Thompson and departmental officials described the mission at a news conference in Yellowknife.

“The Government of the Northwest Territories is proud to be part of the Canadian effort to support the wildfire response in Australia,” said Thompson. “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 this time of need.”

Thompson said the four fire specialists sent to Australia will be taking on critical roles in aviation and planning.

“They will join 24 other wildfire personnel from across Canada,” he noted. “Our staff will be on the ground in Australia for 30 days. I wish them all the best. I know their experience and training will allow them to make an important contribution and help the people of Australia during a very difficult time.”

Fort Smith’s Spencer Porter, an air tanker base manager with the GNWT, will largely be responsible for aircraft getting loaded with fire retardant and being serviced.

Jonathan Williams from Manitoba, a seasonal air attack officer with the GNWT, has been deployed as an aerial observer.

“So wherever the tankers are flying, he’ll be flying above them and essentially monitoring activities from the sky and identifying anything that needs to be dealt with tactically on the ground or otherwise in the air,” said Mike Gravel,  director of forest management with ENR in Fort Smith.

The fourth ENR employee off to Australia is air attack officer Marlon Labach, who will serve as an air support group supervisor to co-ordinate aircraft and helicopters as they come in and out of a staging area. Labach spends his winters in Victoria, B.C.

At the end of the deployment, the Australian government will reimburse the cost to the GNWT.

The latest group is the sixth deployment of Canadians to Australia to help fight the fires.

Gravel noted that Australian firefighters have helped Canada in the past, such as in 2017 and 2018 when they travelled to B.C.

“Australia did come over and help during those summers,” he said. “So Canada obviously feels very happy that we can return the favour.”

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Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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