Fire and Emergency New Zealand crews face bears while battling Canadian wildfires

Multiple US cities are facing health warnings due to the ongoing wildfires in Canada. 

Smoke has drifted down America's East Coast, prompting air quality alerts.

It's only spring in Canada and Nova Scotia has already battled 100 more fires than this time last year. Conditions are so dry and fires keep sparking up.

Firefighters are struggling to contain the wildfires there, with more than 80 out of control. More than 16,000 people have been forced from their homes under mandatory evacuation orders in recent days. 

The large smoke clouds seen over Halifax are now drifting down through the US. From Maine to Rhode Island, Utah to Colorado, air quality alerts warn of the health risk. 

Back in Canada, Kiwis have come to help in the fire-plagued region of Alberta. Fire and Emergency New Zealand's (FENZ) Jamie Cowan is leading a team of Kiwi firefighters who have flown in to assist there.

Twenty-five Kiwis have joined 200 Australians to help try and keep the flames under control. Cowan said they've got straight to work at the top, middle and bottom of the country.

"We are primarily looking at life and property, so several of the fires have run into smaller communities, so our people are working to try and secure those communities so those people can come home again."

For New Zealand's firefighters, there are plenty of new challenges. One of those is coming close to Canadian bears near fire zones. 

Cowan said he's been receiving many pictures of bears from his colleagues.

"[They were] a little bit nervous. At day one there were certainly requests for bear spray and other deterrents, I think they're coming to terms with it now, " Cowan said with a smile.

FENZ crews also coming to terms with a new environment, one much different from the landscape at home. Cowan points out geography is a different challenge.

"[We are] sort of used to steep mountains and dryer country, and a lot of this Alberta country is very wet but it still burns."

The New Zealanders are on a 36-day rotation, with discussions underway for a second group of firefighters to relieve the first. That's welcome news for Canadian officials, who may need all the help they can get.