Emergency responder deaths prompt response from Ottawa on raging wildfires

This wildfire season has been especially ferocious — the worst in recorded history. Thousands of fires have culminated in scorching over 110,000 square kilometres of land from coast to coast.

Emergency responder deaths prompt response from Ottawa on raging wildfires
AP Photo/Noah Berger
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After a series of emergency responder deaths during a devastating wildfire season nationwide, the federal government has assured Canadians it is doing everything it can to prevent further tragedy. 

As of Thursday, four wildfire-related deaths have been reported, including a downed helicopter pilot in northwestern Alberta who died upon impact.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is "heartbroken to hear that another Canadian fighting wildfires has lost their life."

Adam Yeadon, 25, also died last week while fighting a wildfire near Fort Liard in the Northwest Territories. While no details have emerged on the cause of death, family members said he passed after suffering an injury from a fallen tree.

Two days earlier, firefighter Devyn Gale, 19, died after a tree fell on her near Revelstoke, B.C. The province's Coroners Service and the BC Wildlife Service are investigating her death.

"Our thoughts go out to the family, friends and loved ones of the two firefighters who've lost their lives," Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters. "We mourn their death but celebrate what they were doing and their dedication to their communities and countries."

This wildfire season has been especially ferocious — the worst in recorded history. Thousands of fires have culminated in scorching over 110,000 square kilometres of land from coast to coast.

According to Environment Canada, 885 wildfires are burning, of which 600 are classified as "out of control."

Since April 1, B.C. has observed nearly 400 fires burn 13,935 square kilometres of land. In Alberta, provincial data indicates that 2,600 firefighters have responded to over 560 wildfires that have burned 1,180,000 hectares of land.

"The most area burned for an entire wildfire season was 1.3 million hectares in 1981," said Alberta Wildfire Official Christie Tucker when comparing the abnormal intensity of this year's fire season.

As of Thursday morning, the province had 117 active wildfires, 17 considered out of control.

In Québec, the wildfire season decimated more than 15,000 square kilometres of land in the densely populated southern half, with nearly double that land mass burned to the north.

Guilbeault specifically commented on how the wildfires have impacted Indigenous Canadians. He said nearly half (42%) of evacuations affected communities with overwhelmingly Indigenous populations.

As of Monday, 106 wildfires had affected 93 First Nation communities.

"We know that climate change makes the wildfire season worse. And we're working to [ensure] keeping people safe this year while getting ready for years to come," said Guilbeault.

Trudeau's environment minister said Ottawa spent over $65 million since 2021 on the National Wildfire Management Program at Parks Canada to bolster wildfire risk reduction.

However, Indigenous groups have complained that forest management officials prevented them from performing prescribed burns. Alongside forest experts in B.C., they have been calling for more resources to combat wildfires.

"It's as simple as lighting a match. But the way the province deals with things, they want heavy equipment on the site," said former Yuneŝit'in government chief Russell Myers Ross in a 2021 interview.

"They want big hoses; they want a lot of equipment and high-priced personnel."

On May 3, Parks Canada issued a temporary evacuation order for residents, tourists, and livestock at Rocky Mountain Resort after firefighters in training lost control of a prescribed burn.

"Around 1600, due to an unexpected shift in wind direction and speed, the fire escaped the predetermined boundary," said the federal agency.

Parks Canada said firefighters, with the assistance of five helicopters, contained the fire three hectares outside the prescribed burn area, as first reported by The Counter Signal

"Prescribed burns are traditionally held earlier in the spring, where we can remove built-up fuels that could be used to draw a wildfire to [a populated area]," said Tucker. "It's a very common practice."

The official told Rebel News the purpose of a prescribed burn is to mitigate the risk of an uncontrolled wildfire reaching populated areas.

While the origins of many wildfires have yet to be identified, Trudeau shrugged off blame for the wildfires in June, pivoting to 'climate change' as the sole cause.

After the 2017 wildfires, multiple scientific reports recommended enhanced forest management in Canada — and increased spending — to combat the risk. 

"We'll keep working — here at home and with partners around the world — to tackle climate change and address its impacts," he said.

Scientists from the Meteorological and Oceanographic Society said 'climate change' is 'not the sole cause' of a 2021 heatwave that spurred a series of wildfires in B.C. and burned down parts of the town of Lytton.

"I think, like any event, when you dig into the details, there's much to analyze," said climatologist Dr. Faron Anslow.

In 2016, Mark Heathcott, who ran the Parks Canada burns division for 23 years, said the country is "way behind [their] American counterparts" regarding prescribed burns. "A lot of lip service is paid to it, but very few agencies do it. People don't understand the benefit of fire."

This year, Parks Canada scheduled only 23 controlled burns to provide on-the-job training to prospective firefighters.

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