A Kelowna man is organizing a handful of people for an animal rescue mission on the other side of the world.
Brad Pattison and his team are headed to Australia where wildfires are devastating the country and have killed an estimated 1 billion animals.
The fires broke out during a record-breaking heatwave and have been burning since September. Nationwide, at least 25 people have been killed and 2,000 homes destroyed by the blazes, which have so far scorched an area twice the size of the U.S. state of Maryland.
The blazes have already wiped out 30 per cent of the koala population and are expected to worsen as temperatures rise.
Now, Pattison will fly to the fire-ravaged country to work with the Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary and other rescue organizations.
His team members come from Kelowna, Calgary, and as far out as Kitchener, Ont. Pattison himself has done rescue work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti and last year during B.C.’s wildfire season.
“The type of situation we’re stepping into is very, very big. The scope of it is too much to comprehend at times,” Pattison said.
“What my team is expecting is the ugliest part of how nature does things. As we’ve seen from footage, there’s a lot of sadness and devastation. There are many souls that have been lost and one of the reasons we want to go is we want to help these souls that are alive to stay alive.”
Pattison said his team will bring the usual rescue gear such as leashes, ropes, tree-climbing gear, reflective gear, and night vision goggles. He said they’ve spoken with Australian fire crews who will lend them bush gear to be able to go into affected areas safely and rescue wildlife.
Currently, Pattison said they’re still figuring out a cost-effective way to get to Australia.
“We want to make sure that the donated dollars are actually being spent on the cause in Australia, not on travel,” he said.
“The donations we receive, that goes to medical supplies. The money is going to go to burn victims, so (it will be used for) burn supplies like ointments and bandages.”
Kelli Boogemans is part of Pattison’s rescue team. She said she doesn’t quite know what to expect, but she’s been doing her best to prepare by researching.
“I’ve been trying to look for imagery to prepare us a bit more for what we’re about to see. We’ve been listening to testimony from people down there and what they’re going through,” she said.
Preparing as much gear as they possibly can is only half of the story, according to Pattison.
“The one big thing we have to prepare for is absolutely non-physical, it’s mental. That’s getting our heads straight,” he said.
“We will be speaking with a doctor before we leave and receive some counselling. And when we get back, we’ll also speak with her. I want to make sure my team is prepared as best as they possibly can be.”
But through all this, Boogemans said they’re looking at the positives.
“I’m most looking forward to the first time we successfully save an animal. I know there’s going to be so much horrible devastation but I think we need to celebrate every time that we do have a victory. Even if we save just a handful of animals, it’s a success.”
So far, the team has received a little over $10,000 in donations. Their goal is $100,000.