USA / Mexico — An additional 40 firefighters from Mexico arrived Sunday night to help battle the out-of-control Richardson backcountry fire, now burning approximately 550,314 hectares.
More than 700 firefighters are now battling the blaze that got its start mid-May. While more than 400 Alberta-based firefighters have been tackling the behemoth fire, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development says firefighting became an inter-provincial effort with help from B.C., Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. With the arrival of the Mexican firefighters, it’s now an international effort.
“The Richardson fire is now between seven and eight times the size of Edmonton,” said Geoffrey Driscoll, wildfire information officer with SRD. “As well, the length of the fire is the distance you would drive between Edmonton and Red Deer.”
The fire will likely not be brought under control anytime soon.
“It’ll be out of control for a few weeks yet, until we see significant rainfall on there. That being said, we still have our firefighter resources concentrating on that south end, protecting the oilsands projects and from getting further south towards Fort McMurray.”
Additional resources include the DC-10 and Martin Mars waterbombers, 43 helicopters, 43 pieces of heavy equipment including water trucks, nodwells and bulldozers, and 99 command and support staff
Crews from the North West Territories were also working on these fires earlier in June and May.
The wildfire hazard remains extreme. Five active wildfires in the Waterways area northern Alberta have been grouped into the Bitumont Complex, including the Richardson and Fort McKay fires. It also encompasses MWF 010 located in the Fort Hills area, east of the Athabasca River, now under control at approximately 1,709 hectares, said an SRD update. MWF 008 is about 17 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and is also under control at 100 hectares. Crews are patrolling for and extinguishing hot spots in both locations.
Richardson, the largest forest fire in recent Albert history, is about 60 km north of Fort McMurray, stretching from McClelland Lake to Richardson Lake.
There has been little growth on the southern portion of the Richardson fire from Birch Mountain around to the east side of the fire below the Marguerite River, said the SRD update. Crews continue to aggressively action the southern perimeter putting out hot spots and reinforcing dozer guard. The Birch Mountain area has received a very small amount of rain. Heavy equipment and crews continue to reinforce and build guard around the site.
The northeast portion of the fire has seen the most growth in the last several days. The fire has grown north of the Marguerite River and towards the Archer Lake area, said the update. As of Saturday, crews were able to successfully protect several backcountry cabins on the northeast flank. Crews continue to build and reinforce fire guard.
There has been no significant growth north towards Fort Chipewyan in the last 24 hours.
In updating other area fires, SRD report that MWF 030, about 56 km northeast of Fort McMurray, is considered as being held at 2,048 hectares (size change due to updated GPS data). Nine fire crews and six helicopters are working to contain this wildfire which has had no significant growth in the last 24 hours.
MWF 032, approximately 12 km west of Gordon Lake, is under control at 35 hectares.
MWF 035 located between Gordon Lake and Gipsy Lake, 60 km southeast of Fort McMurray, has been extinguished.
The McKay Fire located north of Fort McKay has joined with the Richardson Fire. The final size of 10, 944 hectares is now be included in the Richardson update. There has been no significant growth in the south nearest Fort McKay.
Aggressive mop-up is being conducted on hot spots within the perimeter. Driscoll explained the fire is burning deep down, thanks largely in part to the muskeg.
Crews go in, dig up the burning subterranean layers and soak them with water.
“They’ll feel through it to see if there is anything hot that’s left. If there is something hot, they’ll go back in, dig it all up, mix it up with water again … making sure it’s completely out,” said Driscoll.