Canadian firefighters arrive to help battle Western wildfires

Canadian firefighters arrive to help battle Western wildfires

27 August 2013

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USA/Canada — Fire season is in full swing across the Western United States, with more than 30 large, uncontained fires burning around the country.

Help from north of the border has arrived in Missoula to help bolster resources that are stretched thin. Canadian firefighters, who brought with them helicopters, air tankers engines, and wildland firefighting crews are ready to help out, including on the nearly 11,000 acre Lolo Creek Complex fire.

U.S. Forest Service Region One spokesman Phil Sammon says the crews have been called in through state and federal agreements to share firefighting resources in times of high fire activity.

Five Canadian Type 1 crews from Ontario arrived Monday and are now being brought up to speed on the fire conditions in the Northern Rockies.

Sammon says the Canadian crews will be available for fire duty on Wednesday, adding that they “can be broken into smaller crews to handle fire assignments ranging from initial attack to extended attack on large fires, such as the Lolo Creek Complex burning south of Missoula.”

“With the extreme fire conditions we’ve been experiencing, the difficulty of the terrain where our fires have been occurring, and the shortages of available resources, the crews will be integral to our suppression efforts,” said Jim Kelton, representative for the Northern Rockies Multi-Agency Coordinating (MAC) Group.

The group coordinates interagency fire operations in the geographic area that includes north Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Yellowstone National Park. The Canadian crews are comparable to hotshot crews commonly used to fight fires around the U.S.

Canadian engines, helicopter rappel crews, and three additional Type 2 crews are being used in Idaho to assist with new fire starts and existing large fires. The Canadian assistance in Montana also includes 24 smokejumpers from British Columbia, air tankers and helicopters.

The Northern Rockies reported 61 new fires across the area Monday, in addition to the nine uncontained large fires already burning.

There are seven incident management teams assigned to fires in the Northern Rockies Geographic Area. The Montana National Guard has also joined the firefighting effort after an emergency declaration was signed last week by Montana Governor Steve Bullock.

Resources have been stretched thin in recent weeks, particularly with activity in southern California, where the Rim fire is the top priority in the nation. Last week, the Lolo Creek Complex Fire south of Missoula was the country’s highest concern.

The help from Canada is currently authorized for the next two to three weeks, but Sammon says they could be extended beyond that if the fire season in the Northern Rockies continues.

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