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60 firefighters from Quebec currently in California to help battle wildfires


WASHINGTON — Sixty firefighters from Quebec have arrived in California to help battle the wildfires ravaging the state, Canada's answer to a plea from Gov. Gavin Newsom for international help with the crisis.

The crews, accompanied by three senior supervisors, arrived in the state Thursday after a day-long briefing in Idaho, said Marc Mousseau of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. 

The Canadians will be assigned to the North Complex cluster of lightning-sparked fires, which have burned more than 23,000 hectares in northeastern California so far and are only about 37 per cent contained.

The firefighters have arrived just in time for what the U.S. National Weather Service is predicting will be a fearsome few days of searing heat across the southwestern part of the country — an extreme event that could prove even hotter than the stretch of August that triggered the current fires.

"Some locations may record values upwards of 20 to 25 degrees (F) higher than normal for this time of the year," the service warned in an advisory Friday. "Temperatures overnight are not likely to cool off much, and given the very dry airmass in place, this greatly increases the risk for the spread of wildfires."

Forecasters are bracing for a weekend of record highs — temperatures approaching 46 C — in a state that just last month registered a blistering 54 C record in Death Valley, believed to be the highest temperature recorded on Earth in the last 90 years.

Newsom thanked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the help when the pair spoke by phone Thursday, according to a readout of the call from the Prime Minister's Office.

"The prime minister offered his condolences to Gov. Newsom for the loss of life and devastation resulting from the wildfires throughout the state," the statement said.

"They also discussed the importance of protecting the environment and fighting climate change, noting in particular its effects on more acute wildfire seasons."

In California, the battle against devastating wildfires has become almost an annual ritual. More than 875 fires, most fuelled by lightning strikes, tinder-dry conditions and blazing heat, have displaced tens of thousands of residents and consumed more than 600,000 hectares so far this year — an area larger than Prince Edward Island.

Two of the fires currently active in the state are the second- and third-largest fires in California history.

Canada likely won't be providing any additional assistance unless more help is requested, Mousseau said.

"At the time of the request from the United States Forest Service, these were the personnel identified as available for deployment," he said. 

"If there are any additional requests from the U.S. Forest Service, CIFFC will canvas the Canadian agencies at that time. There are currently no further requests from the U.S."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2020.

— Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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