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P.E.I. National Park official says scale of Australian fires impossible to describe

Brad Romaniuk of Stratford stands outside a makeshift fire control centre in Tumult, Australia. The resource conservation manager for the P.E.I. National Park was deployed to Australia on Dec. 29 to help fight fires that have engulfed the country. Romaniuk says it’s hard to describe the sheer scale of what’s taking place.
Brad Romaniuk of Stratford stands outside a makeshift fire control centre in Tumult, Australia. The resource conservation manager for the P.E.I. National Park was deployed to Australia on Dec. 29 to help fight fires that have engulfed the country. Romaniuk says it’s hard to describe the sheer scale of what’s taking place. - Contributed
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Brad Romaniuk says it’s impossible to put the sheer size of the fires in Australia into words.
Romaniuk, the resource conservation manager for the P.E.I. National Park, was part of the Canadian contingent that was deployed on Dec. 29 to help fight the raging bush fires that have been burning across Australia for more than a month.
They return to Canada on Jan. 29.
“The news has captured it well in a sort of picture perspective, but one of the things that’s hard to capture in short interviews is the scale of it,’’ Romaniuk told The Guardian in a telephone interview on Thursday. “It really is across the entire country. Every federal and state department is involved.’’
Romaniuk, who has expertise in managing wild fires, has a staff of about 12 people. His team has been integrated with a crew from the United States.
They initially started working on the fires in Brisbane, but the crews were diverted to New South Wales to deal with some high priority fires.
Since Jan. 3, Romaniuk and his crew have been hunkered down in Tumut, a town in the Riverina region. They’ve been managing a large fire that has been called the Dunblane fire. More than 600,000 hectares have burned, seriously impacting about eight communities.
Romaniuk works in a fire control centre, overseeing the management of different fires. He helps co-ordinate everything from helicopter movement to people on the ground. His team has 400 heavy pieces of equipment on the ground helping.
“I spend a couple of days in the air looking at what we’re doing on the ground, assessing what needs to be done or could be done.’’
It’s been a particularly hard week for Romaniuk and his crew. Three firefighters from the U.S., ranging in age from 42 to 44, were killed on Thursday when a large plane carrying fire retardant went down in the mountains south of Cranberra, the Australian capital. The crash happened not far from where Romaniuk and his crew are.
“Those things hit us every day,’’ he said.
The Guardian also got back in touch with a couple of Island residents living in Australia to get an update on how things were going.
Lindsay Clements, a native of Beach Point, said the air quality has become a major concern. It’s listed as poor to hazardous across most of the country. Clements said she’s taking in dust and smoke every time she takes a breath.
“I cannot imagine how Brad and his crew are dealing with air quality like they do every day,’’ said Clements, who is about 2.5 hours east of Canberra where new fires have been emerging.
Cornwall native Andrew Dennis, who operates a martial arts academy in Byron Bay (in New South Wales), said things in his area have settled down quite a bit.
“But things are still pretty gnarly in many places,’’ Dennis said.
Despite the devastation, Romaniuk is amazed by the resilience of the Australian people.
“I work with people every day that have lost nearly everything and they still show up every day and we work side by side. We try to do the best we can to stop some of these fires. The people here are extremely resilient, extremely kind (and it) it really has tightened the communities and they were already tight communities.’’
Romaniuk also finds it hard to be away from his wife, Arja, and their family in Stratford, especially during the winter.
“It’s a bit of a family commitment to come here and do this. It weighs heavily on you when you think of someone being gone for 30 days. Hello to everybody back home and thanks to all those who have reached out to help Arja and I with kind words and support. I’m proud to be here representing the Island.’’

Dave.stewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Twitter.com/DveStewart

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At a glance
Here is some information about the Australian fires and details of a fundraiser being held in Charlottetown:
- The fires in Australia have burned about 12 million hectares, including more than 5.2 million hectares in New South Wales, 2.5 million in Queensland, 2.2 million in Western Australia, 1.4 million in Victoria and about half a million in South Australia
- The death toll is reported to be at 29 people while millions of animals are said to have perished. Some experts say that number could climb to one billion dead animals
- Experts are warning people to watch out for deadly funnel-web spiders due to conditions that are considered perfect for the arachnid to thrive. These spiders are known for their highly toxic, fast-acting venom
- East Coast Art Party P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Humane Society will be hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 8, 6:30-9:30 p.m., at 135 Great George St. in Charlottetown. The fundraiser has been dubbed Colourful Koala Art Fights Fire. All proceeds from this event will be donated to help support fighting the wildfires in Australia. For more information, call 1-833-278-7789 or email info@eastcoastartparty.com

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