A federal equity program promoting "all genders" in firefighting lost control of a prescribed burn Wednesday that Canada Parks admitted went "out of control."
The controlled blaze occurred Wednesday at Banff National Park as part of Canada's first-ever Women-in-Fire Training Exchange (WTREX), with 35 applicants present for training "with diversity and inclusion goals in mind."
According to the call for applicants, WTREX engaged participants of "all different genders, ethnic, and racial backgrounds" to explore the "growing role of women" in fire management while also serving as a training opportunity.
Canada Parks said firefighters, with the assistance of five helicopters, contained the fire three hectares outside the prescribed burn area, as first reported by Counter Signal. "Around 1600 (4 p.m. MT), due to an unexpected shift in wind direction and speed, the fire escaped the predetermined boundary," the federal agency stated.
Parks Canada issued a temporary evacuation order for residents, tourists, and livestock at Rocky Mountain Resort that they rescinded later that day.
"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 a wildfire official on Saturday. "It's a very common practice."
The official told Rebel News the purpose of a prescribed burn was to achieve several objectives, including mitigating wildfire risk in the Banff and Canmore area. However, they did not comment on the "appropriateness" of this particular exercise concerning gender equity.
There are currently 109 active wildfires in Alberta, with 28 classified as out of control. As of writing, wildfire officials confirmed the ongoing fires had displaced over 24,000 residents. An additional 52,000 Albertans remain under an evacuation alert.
"[The province is focused on] protecting human life and property" and making available resources to temporarily displaced Albertans," Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis told reporters.
"The federal government is on standby providing help, and we will use their resources if our officials have asked us to do so," said Premier Danielle Smith, adding the province has $1.5 billion in contingency for emergency management.
"We'll spend whatever it takes [to get affected residents the support they need]," she said.
In declaring a state of emergency, the province can access emergency discretionary funds and mobilize additional support for impacted Albertans, according to Smith.
"Under the Emergency Management Act, the declaration gives the government greater powers to respond to extreme situations," she said, adding they did not take this step lightly, but lauded it as the "quickest" and "most effective" response to counter the wildfires.