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

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

Alberta has declared a state of emergency. There were 82 active wildfires as of Thursday morning, 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.”

“It’s a good opportunity to thank the hard working firefighters, first responders, emergency staff working around the clock to protect Albertans and to manage the fires and to all of those who have been forced to evacuate.”

Blair said the federal government has agreed to a request for assistance from Alberta.

“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.”

The Alberta government said in a release that troops from the 3rd Battalion, 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 said in a release.

“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.”

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.

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