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U.S. deploys high-tech Pentagon program to help Canada detect, suppress new wildfires

The White House says the FireGuard system uses real-time data from drones and satellites
An evacuation order has been lifted for the community of Tumbler Ridge, B.C., nine days after more than 2,000 residents were forced out by an encroaching wildfire. The West Kiskatinaw River wildfire (G70645) in the District of Tumbler Ridge, B.C., is shown in this handout image provided by the BC Wildfire Service, Thursday, June 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*

The U.S. Department of Defense has deployed a new high-tech fire detection system to help Canada battle one of its worst wildfire seasons on record.

The White House says the FireGuard system uses real-time data from drones and satellites to help detect new flareups in remote areas before they burn out of control.

It’s just the latest helping hand from the U.S. since smoke from wildfires in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec began drifting south of the border earlier this month.

Since early May, more than 800 U.S. firefighters, supervisors and technicians have been deployed throughout Canada, along with various aviation assets.

READ MORE: Canada is experiencing its ‘worst wildfire season of the 21st century’: Blair

Canada has since requested additional airtankers and smokejumpers — wildfire specialists who parachute into remote areas — through both federal and state-level channels.

Other resources being sent north include hand crews, incident management teams and fireline leadership positions, according to the Idaho-based National Interagency Fire Center.

“DOD personnel will analyze and share real-time data derived from U.S. satellites and sensors and convey it via a co-operative agreement between the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center and the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre,” National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said in a release.

“In the weeks ahead, the United States will continue to closely co-ordinate with the government of Canada on the ongoing response to the historic wildfires burning in Canada.”

Those fires became impossible to ignore south of the border last week as heavy smoke drifted into some of the most populated cities along the U.S. east coast, including New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

At its worst, regions were issuing air quality alerts that ranged from red to purple and maroon — a level that indicates “hazardous” conditions — and cancelling outdoor activities, delaying flights and keeping schoolchildren indoors.

“We’re proud of our personnel for continuing to step up and make themselves available for assignment in Canada,” said Dave Haston, a spokesman for the National Multi-Agency Co-ordinating Group.

The group “will continue to respond promptly to Canadian requests for additional fire suppression resources and provide critical support during this current period of relatively light fire activity in the U.S.”

The subtext there is clear: the U.S. has its own wildfire season to worry about, and if it ramps up to the same level as in Canada, it will have its hands full and be unable to provide much additional help beyond its borders.

Through state-level “compacts” with Alaska, Washington and Minnesota, three airtankers have been dispatched to Alberta, while three single-engine water bombers known as “fire bosses” are headed to Ontario.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fire Service are also sending two aircraft, four spotter planes and 36 smokejumpers to help with fire suppression efforts in British Columbia.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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