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Volunteers lend a helping hand to northern neighbours during 2023 wildland fires

Posted on October 12, 2023 by admin
Yellowhead County: Firefighters from Picture Butte supported firefighting efforts in the Edson area in May, 2023.

By Erika Mathieu
Westwind Weekly News

Beginning in the spring of 2023, Albertans watched in horror as hundreds of thousands of hectares burnt across several districts in Alberta which resulted in the evacuation of nearly 30,000 people.

Efforts to snuff out the 2023 Alberta wildfires required the assistance of seasonal and year-round firefighters from Alberta Wildfire and paid-on-call volunteers to control the fires. By early June, help from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and across Canada had been deployed to help extinguish the swath of growing fires across Alberta. 

Volunteers from Lethbridge County stepped up to help in the fire suppression efforts, including from the Coaldale, Picture Butte, Nobleford, and Coalhurst Fire departments.

Ryan Wagner, Fire Chief of the Nobleford Fire Department, said the small department played a part in the effort. 

“We had three separate crews go up for 7-9 day rotations per shift for a total of three deployments up by Edson in Yellowhead County, on two separate wildfire locations.”

Wagner said the department was able to gather resources and assist once called upon by provincial-level fire services and subsequently sent their Wildland unit up with crews.

Wagner explained the three crews encountered “severe devastation and active wildfire conditions while being in post-fire recon on residences already decimated by fire, hitting hotspots for hours on end, encountering active wildfire running through the trees at 50’- 100’ flames, and assisting in Wildland Urban Interface on structure protection (WUI).” 

In addition to Nobleford volunteer firefighters, volunteers from Picture Butte, Coaldale, and Coalhurst departments also aided in the efforts. 

“We were lucky enough to be deployed with some of our neighbouring Lethbridge County departments, and with the direction and assistance from Yellowhead County members made it operate fairly smoothly for all involved,” Wagner added. 

Coaldale and District Emergency Services also deployed a team of four firefighters and an engine to Yellowhead County to support the firefighting operations where crews rotated out three times and were deployed for approximately 11 days.

From Picture Butte Emergency Services, a team of four firefighters and a fire engine were deployed to assist on the Deep Creek Wildfire in Yellowhead County for 21 days in May.

Frank West, Picture Butte’s Director of Emergency Services, said the Picture Butte Fire Department had, “12 firefighters rotate through four deployments with the assistance of the Picture Butte & District Transportation Society providing their bus.” 

Working in collaboration with firefighters from across Alberta and beyond, West added the ability for members to play a role in such a large provincial response was a “unique experience.”

Firefighters from the Picture Butte department were assigned to frontline firefighting tasks around Wildwood, Evansburg, Niton Junction, and the Shining Bank area. West said members were tasked with direct fire attack, structural protection, and mop up of burned-through areas. 

“We would like to thank the families and employers of our firefighters for giving up their members for three weeks to help out their fellow Albertans.”

Although lower temperatures and fall precipitation help improve conditions, there were over 80 active wildfires burning in Alberta as of Oct. 3.

For more information on wildfire preparedness and how you can help reduce the risks of wildfires in our community, visit https://www.alberta.ca/wildfire-preparedness.aspx

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