Soldiers training to fight Saskatchewan wildfires
Published Tuesday, July 7, 2015 1:24PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 8, 2015 2:17PM EDT
Soldiers are training to help battle wildfires in northern Saskatchewan that have forced thousands of people from their homes.
Approximately 1,000 soldiers -- based in Alberta and Manitoba -- arrived in Prince Albert on Monday. About 600 will aid in the actual firefighting, while the rest will work to help distribute equipment and food supplies to fire crews.
Steve Roberts, executive director of the province’s Wildfire Management branch, said 360 of them will receive a day of condensed fire training on different topics including fire behaviour, equipment, strategy and a practical session on firefighting tools.
The newly trained soldiers will be deployed to the fire lines on Wednesday.
Roberts added that once the troops had completed the training, it would be available to other groups such as First Nations.
Officials are hoping to have at least 150 troops on the line by Tuesday, and up to 500 by Wednesday. The group will be a self-sufficient force, with their own vehicles and equipment.
Defence Minister Jason Kenney told The Canadian Press that the Canadian Forces were "happy to oblige" Saskatchewan's request for help.
"It's not often the Canadian Army is called upon by the provinces to assist with forest fires but this is a big one for Saskatchewan," said Kenney.
"They're just getting this one day quick refresher course to make sure when they're out and in the fire zone they are operating safely," he added.
Brig.Gen. Wayne Eyre spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon, saying his troops would be responsible for three main tasks: Providing support along frontlines in the form of patrols and detection; putting out hot spots; and general logistics, including moving equipment and helping with hoses.
Eyre said some of his troops have experience battling wildfires, including firefighters who were deployed to British Columbia in August 2003, when the province was overwhelmed by more than 800 forest fires.
The soliders' military training, with the additional fire training and equipment, make for a "very potent combination," he said.
"The general war-fighting training that we get is absolutely essential to be the ultimate insurance policy for our country (and it) pays huge dividends when it comes to something like this," said Eyre.
He added it is not yet clear whether the crews will need reinforcements to help douse the 113 wildfires that continue to burn across Saskatchewan.
"Once we get on the ground and get a better appreciation of how much ground we can cover, and the effect we can deliver, we will determine if we're going to bring additional troops forward," said Eyre.
"There's a lot of factors … (including) the weather and how that changes the situation. But we're hoping to make that assessment over the next 48 to 72 hours," he added.
Erye said that the decision will also be made in conjunction with provincial authorities.
Along, with the additional manpower, an S-64 Air Crane helicopter from Montana has been enlisted to join the fight. It is one of the largest firefighting helicopters in North America. Additional air support from Quebec and Newfoundland has also been secured.
Over the weekend, the fires prompted mandatory evacuation orders for La Ronge, Air Ronge, and Lac La Ronge Indian Band.
Approximately 9,000 people have been forced from their homes due to the wildfires, with about 7,320 registering to receive support from the government.
With files from CTV Saskatoon and The Canadian Press