Though physically and emotionally exhausted after battling the searing heat and flames of Australian bushfires, Albertan Eben Smith can still find the silver lining amid the devastation down under.
The 24-year-old from Crowsnest Pass, Alta., has been fighting the deadly Australian fires since Saturday, and said the experience has reinforced his belief in humanity’s compassionate response in disastrous times.
“This has shown me how close Australian people are and how they have come together to help each other,” the rappel firefighter told Metro Calgary exclusively.
“After fighting fires and driving through the towns you see the people lined up in town, doing their bit to help.”
The first three months of Smith’s work with the department of sustainability and environment in Ovens, Victoria, Australia were uneventful — until he said a deadly recipe of heat, winds and an alleged arsonist created a disaster.
“It looks like a war zone. The trees are black and homes destroyed like a bomb hit them. This town used to be beautiful like Banff or Jasper, but now looks like a volcano,” Smith said.
It is Smith’s second stint fighting fires in Australia, a job he did for four years in Crowsnest Pass.
Smith said when the fires hit Saturday he was watching on the news with mixed emotions.
“You feel angry because someone may have done this on purpose. And so there is anger, but it is also sickening and saddening because of the people that lost their lives and homes,” Smith said.
For now fighting the fires brings a sense of duty and Smith’s training kicks in as second nature.
Smith modestly admits he is just one of thousands of firefighters doing the same thing.
“I’m not a hero. I’m just a regular guy doing his bit to help out.”
At least 173 people have been confirmed killed in the fires, although an Australian newspaper said the toll may reach 230. Reports say at least a portion of the fires were deliberately set and the Victoria state police commissioner, Christine Nixon, launched “Operation Phoenix,” to find those responsible.