Trudeau meets with military personnel helping with Alberta wildfires
May 16, 2023
By The Canadian Press
By Kelly Geraldine Malone and Ritika Dubey
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped in Edmonton on Monday to meet with military personnel who are helping fight wildfires in Alberta as provincial officials said the hot, windy and dry conditions in the forecast are creating a “perfect storm.”
“I don’t believe the worst is behind us,” said Christie Tucker, information unit manager at Alberta Wildfire.
Around 17,400 Albertans have been forced from their homes, with 26 of 90 active wildfires considered out of control.
Trudeau was given an overview of the fires at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton and, along with federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, was briefed about the threats from rising temperatures and dryness.
“(It’s) almost without precedent to have this level of fire activity in the province,” Blair said ahead of the briefing.
There are around 2,500 people battling wildfires in Alberta, including about 300 soldiers.
Reservists dressed in yellow jumpsuits and bright blue safety helmets trudged through charred forest near Drayton Valley over the weekend.
Working alongside firefighters, they used tools, shovels and water to put out smouldering trees and hot spots.
Blair said Ottawa is in talks with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico to bring in additional firefighters.
Hot and dry conditions are creating the “perfect storm” for fires to start and grow quickly, said Colin Blair, with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
Valleyview in northwest Alberta was the latest community to order an evacuation Monday afternoon after a fire jumped a barrier meant to slow it down.
It was a challenging weekend for firefighters and the hot temperatures are expected to persist, officials said. Strong winds in the forecast bring the likelihood of unpredictable fire behaviour.
“This will cause dangerous conditions for our firefighters on the ground,” Tucker said.
Adam Norris was dousing his property near Drayton Valley with water Monday morning, more than a week after fire torched his farm and land. A house, garage, vehicles, animals and irreplaceable family items were lost.
“(I’m) running on a lot of coffee and adrenalin,” Norris said as he continued to fight hot spots that flared up during the hot weekend.
Crews have made progress battling the fire threatening Brazeau County southwest of Edmonton, which includes the town of Drayton Valley, the county said Monday.
More than 200 people are working on the fire line, the county said, adding heat scans were used to identify hot spots.
Norris said he knows many neighbours are eager to return to their homes. But it’s just not safe.
“There’s some incredibly scary places that are still lighting up here,” he said.
Members of the Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta, which has been under an evacuation order for nearly two weeks, are struggling, said Darryel Sowan, the community’s emergency management communications co-ordinator.
There has been significant damage, homes are destroyed and the wildfire remains out of control.
“(The) community is dealing as best as they could under the circumstances, but (everyone) wants to go home of course,” Sowan said in an email.
Kyle Brittain, a storm chaser and former wildland firefighter, said the rising temperatures created blistering infernos where he was, about 50 kilometres south of Grand Prairie.
He said the only saving grace was a lack of wind, which meant the fires were growing slowly. That’s now expected to change.
“You can be standing 500 metres back or more and feel bursts of radiant heat coming off of these flames when they engulf a stand of coniferous trees,” Brittain said Monday.
“You can hear the roar from several kilometres away.”
Wildfires have also been a concern in Alberta’s neighbouring jurisdictions.
In eastern British Columbia, the City of Fort St. John has issued an evacuation alert for all residents, telling them they need to prepare to leave because of an out-of-control wildfire. Parts of B.C.’s Peace River region remain under evacuation orders.
In the southern Northwest Territories, the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and Town of Hay River ordered evacuations Sunday.
And in Saskatchewan, a wildfire near the northern community of Buffalo Narrows has prompted a state of emergency. Some residents are leaving because the smoke is affecting their health and the power is out.
The fires in the west have caused smoke to drift as far east as Ontario. Environment cannabis has issued air-quality statements for northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and into northwestern Ontario.
The department said people with lung or heart disease, older adults, children, pregnant people and people who work outdoors are at higher risk of experiencing health effects caused by wildfire smoke.
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