KELOWNA (NEWS 1130) – A small team of rescue volunteers from Canada are heading down under to help as Australia tries to grapple with raging, out of control bushfires that have destroyed millions of hectares of land.
Brad Pattison is an animal rescue expert based in Kelowna and is planning to fly to Melbourne with four others mid-next week. He says they’ve been in touch with WestJet about getting some help to get the team there. WestJet doesn’t fly direct, but have a partnership with Qantas and Pattison is hoping to hear back from the latter soon.
The team will stay for two weeks to a month then reassess the situation.
“Once we arrive in Australia, then whatever plans we typically make here on Canadian soil change abruptly. So, we have to come up with about 20 different worse case and best-case scenarios and then we go from there,” Pattison says.
Rescue volunteers (some from BC) are planning to go to Australia as the country is destroyed by bushfires. They will help anyone but are focused on saving animals. I’m speaking w/@BradPattisonTNG as he prepares for the emotional journey.
— Sonia Aslam (@SoniaSAslam) January 7, 2020
He explains one of their first stops will be the Jirrahlinga Koala & Wildlife Sanctuary.
“They want to have our assistance and they’ve invited our team to accommodate their needs, so this is definitely a place that we will be reaching out to and heading off to.”
Pattison says the rescue group says once they get on the ground, things will move very quickly.
“There are two plans with that. One, we’re looking at Jirrahlinga — doing what we can there and if they do need a lot of assistance with retrieval of animals that need to be rescued from trees for instance because we are specialized in animal capture out of trees. That’s one thing we can do. The reason we’re looking at Kangaroo Island… is evacuating koalas from trees, so they don’t die in those trees. It’s very risky, it’s very dangerous, but it has to be done if we’re going to save a species,” he says, adding they will try to stay ahead of the fire with their evacuation.
He stresses their focus will not be primarily on koalas but any animals that need saving.
“It’s not that we’re going to turn a blind eye like in New Orleans where I witnessed that, where groups were turning a blind eye on a certain species and that is not part of our protocol. Our protocol is to help all animals and/or people that need our help.”
The exact number of dead animals hasn’t been confirmed by local authorities but hundreds of millions have been killed in the fires, some burned alive. Devastating footage has also surfaced showing rows and rows of charred carcasses on the side of roads.
Emergency workers are seen feeding an injured koala water in heartbreaking footage as bushfires rage across Australia.
— ABC News (@ABC) January 6, 2020
Pattison admits emotionally it will be difficult, but adds he is somewhat prepared having been to New Orleans, Haiti and Calgary following the floods there in 2013.
“Going into this situation where we will be coming across deceased animals, it’s going to be very difficult. When you look at a little koala, your heart just smiles. When you see a little cute possum or anything else, but once you see that animal that has been burnt, the nightmares begin, the sadness creeps in and the emotions take a flow. We are very well prepared. The team will be preparing with a doctor before we are deployed and we’ll go prepared as best as we possibly can.”
A GoFundMe has been launched to help their efforts. The goal is to raise at least $25,000 but the group is hoping to raise more than $100,000.
“With the fires we’ve experienced in Kelowna, my team has experience around fire so it’s not something we’re walking into fresh and unexperienced with, we’re very, very familiar with fires and what needs to be done and how to evacuate distressed animals. We have a great team that’s well equipped. We just need more funding for medical supplies such as: gauze, saline, [and] other ointments to help these burn victims.”
The fires are expected to continue burning for months as fire crews from BC have been down there since the Christmas break helping their counterparts.