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‘Unprecedented’: Bill Blair says military help on the way to battle Alberta wildfires

Thousands remain out of their homes, crews from 4 other provinces and Yukon have joined the fight
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith meets with members of the military in Edmonton who are on stand-by to help with the wildfires before she gave an update on the situation in Alberta on Monday May 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says Canadian Forces personnel are being deployed to help with an “unprecedented” wildfire situation in Alberta.

Alberta remains in a state of emergency, which was declared Saturday. There were 81 active wildfires as of Thursday afternoon, with 23 out of control.

Thousands remain out of their homes and additional fire crews from British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Yukon have joined the fight.

In Ottawa, Blair acknowledged the “unprecedented wildfire situation currently taking place in Alberta” and said the federal government has agreed to a request for assistance from the province.

“We are already moving resources into those communities from the Canadian Armed Forces and other resources to provide the assistance that they requested,” he said.

“They also asked for expertise in construction engineering … and the Canadian Armed Forces is located in Alberta and has that equipment and can do that job.”

Military resources are to be provided for two weeks initially, with a one-week extension possible if it’s determined help is still needed.

The Alberta government said in a news release that troops from the 3rd Batallion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and 1 Combat Engineer Regiment are to establish bases of operations. Army reserve soldiers from across Alberta are also deploying this week.

The troops are to go to the Grande Prairie, Fox Creek and Drayton Valley areas.

“The capabilities the CAF can bring to support Alberta are firefighting support to aid in mop-up operations and basic firefighting duties,” the province.

“Airlift resources for increased mobility and logistical responsibilities, such as evacuating isolated communities, will also be provided. Engineering support will be provided where required, incorporating heavy equipment resources.”

Blair said there is one request from Alberta that the military is not prepared to fulfil.

“They also asked, for example, that the Canadian Armed Forces would be deployed to provide security in evacuated communities and that’s a policing function,” Blair said.

“I’ve said we’re not going to … provide the military to do that, because that’s not what they are there for.”

Also Thursday, the Alberta and federal governments announced a donation-matching program with the Canadian Red Cross for disaster relief efforts that would see every $1 donated become $3.

Meanwhile, Indigenous Services Canada said late Wednesday that wildfires are threatening nine First Nations in Alberta, including the Little Red River Cree Nation, where more than 100 structures have been lost in the community of Fox Lake.

The department said it is helping the northern First Nation set up temporary housing in nearby John D’Or Prairie for 500 people, including a commercial kitchen and other amenities.

Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation has also been hit hard, with fire destroying 45 structures and power infrastructure.

Indigenous Services said 1,600 evacuees from the community are staying in Edmonton and nearby Grande Prairie and Valleyview.

Yellowhead County west of Edmonton said residents of the communities of Hansonville, Lobstick Resort and Wildwood are being allowed back.

—Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Wildfires threatening nine First Nations in Alberta: Indigenous Services Canada