Troops sent in for Canadian wildfires

  • 10/07/2015
Troops from the 3rd Canadian Division arrive in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. (Reuters)
Troops from the 3rd Canadian Division arrive in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. (Reuters)

A group of New Zealand rural firefighters are preparing to head to Canada to help put out several hundred forest fires at the request of Canadian authorities. 

Thousands of people have already fled their homes as several hundred fierce forest fires cover large parts of the country.

A total of 118 fires, including about 20 authorities have classified as out of control, were blazing in Saskatchewan alone on Thursday, according to a latest report.

It is estimated around 800,000 hectares of forest is burning across Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and neighbouring Alaska are currently burning.

Canadian troops have begun arriving in the central province, where the Canadian government said it would send up to 1400 personnel including a firefighting force.

Joining them will be 16 Kiwi firefighters who will fly from Auckland to Vancouver on Tuesday before being going to Edmonton for what is expected to be a five-week deployment.

National Rural Fire Officer Kevin O'Connor says the group had been asked for help by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre earlier this week.

Their primary role will be on the frontline supporting their local counterparts.

"Our people have a range of skills in high demand during lengthy firefighting operations," he says.

These included logistics, planning, finance, ferrying supplies into remote locations and using aircraft.

It's not the first time Kiwi firefighters have been called in as reinforcements – they were also called upon in August 2009 during another serious outbreak of wildfires.

More than 13,000 people are still living in community centres several hundred kilometres away from their homes in Saskatchewan and in the neighbouring province of Alberta, after being evacuated a week ago.

"It's difficult for them," said Jim Reiter, Saskatchewan minister of government relations, adding that their return date is not known due to changing weather conditions.

Particularly violent blazes have ravaged Saskatchewan's north, in areas populated by native peoples, while two other provinces are also ablaze.

Unusual drought and high seasonal temperatures have fuelled the outbreak, Reiter said.

In British Colombia, Canada's westernmost province, new fires have been declared nearly every day, with evacuation advisories issued for the Rocky Mountain area.

Firefighters have also carried out evacuations in an area 500km north of Vancouver.

In Alberta, nearly 100 fires are active, 11 of which were declared in the last 24 hours, the province's fire service said.

3 News / NZN