300 firefighters from South Africa arrive in Alberta

The 300 South African firefighters that were requested to help suppress the huge fire at Fort McMurray arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Sunday after a 24-hour journey. If their enthusiasm displayed upon their arrival at the Edmonton airport (below) is indicative of their productivity on the fireline, they will be a valuable resource.

The men and women were selected from 5,000 that have been part of the Working On Fire (WoF) program in South Africa. The government-funded organization changes the lives of unemployed South African youths by training them to become firefighters.

South Africa To Alberta map

In addition to the standard instruction they received in the WoF curriculum, the 300 chosen for the deployment went through a 10-day boot camp taught by Canadian trainers before they left Africa.

Below is an excerpt from an article at The Globe and Mail:

…With a shortage of water and specialized equipment here, the South African firefighters often use “firebeaters” – wooden sticks with a leather pad attached – to beat out a bush fire. But at their boot camp this month, the South Africans learned new water-handling techniques for the Canadian fires.

Those who were chosen for the latest mission are the fittest and most skilled of the 5,000 in the organization. After a month in Canada, they will take home the equivalent of about $1,500 each. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s 10 times more than their normal monthly stipend in the training program. It will help many of the firefighters to get out of shacks and build new brick houses, get driver’s licences or enter postsecondary education.

At a farewell ceremony on Saturday at their temporary camp near Johannesburg, the 300 firefighters danced and sang the morale-building songs that they sing daily in the bush. “We are confident, we are excited,” they sang in the Zulu language.

The firefighters were mostly recruited from rural areas with high unemployment. So as part of their final preparations before flying to Canada, they were given a two-day course in financial management, to help them avoid making mistakes with their limited wages.

“For them, just to get to an international airport is a life-changing experience,” said Llewellyn Pillay, managing director of Working on Fire. “To put them on a plane and send them to a foreign country fundamentally changes their lives.”

500 firefighters from U.S. and South Africa mobilized to Canada

Following up on our story from May 23 when Canada requested 200 firefighters from the United States, the order was filled today when the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) mobilized 10 hand crews to assist with the Fort McMurray fire in Canada. Five of the crews flew on a Canadian aircraft out of NIFC in Boise, Idaho, at 9:15 a.m. and another five departed from Missoula, Montana. The crews are comprised of Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildland firefighters.

In addition, 300 firefighters from South Africa will also assist the Canadians.

South African firefighters Canada
The largest ever deployment of firefighters from South Africa, from Working on Fire, were mobilized to Canada.

“We have a bilateral firefighting assistance agreement with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which works well when either country is in need of wildland fire suppression resources. Canada has assisted the U.S. many times in the past, so as soon as Canada requested assistance, we quickly accommodated their request,” says Dan Buckley, NIFC’s National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group Chair.

On May 10, the U.S. mobilized two heavy air tankers and a lead plane to assist with wildfires in Canada. The tankers, based out of Bemidji, Minnesota, flew retardant to wildfires in the Ontario province for one day. In the last 5 years, the U.S. has supported Canada twice. In 2015, NIFC mobilized 200 firefighters and one heavy air tanker and in 2010, 30 smokejumpers and one Type 2 Initial attack crew were sent to Quebec.

Conversely, Canada has provided support for wildfires in the U.S. For each of the last five years, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) mobilized fire managers, large air tankers, smokejumpers and wildland fire crews.

Firefighters to Canada 1

Canada requests 10 crews from the U.S. for Fort McMurray Fire

Canada asked the United States for 200 firefighters.

Canada has requested 10 hand crews from the United States to assist with the huge wildfire at Fort McMurray, the Horse River Fire, in Alberta. A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, Kaari Carpenter, said the personnel have been asked to arrive on Wednesday, May 25. The National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) is coordinating with several Geographic Areas hoping to find ten 20-person crews, on which all firefighters have passports.

Other resources that have been requested are two Interagency Resource Representatives (IARR) to support efforts in the Fort McMurray area, and one Technical Specialist (THSP) to serve as International Liaison for NICC at the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

map Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission (NFFPC)
Map of state & provinces within the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission

We are working on confirming that an incident management team (IMT) comprised of both Canadians and Americans was mobilized to the Fort McMurray Fire about a week ago. The Northeastern Forest Fire Protection compact has built an IMT consisting of both Canadian Province members and American members and successfully mobilized them across Compact lines to Alberta. As far as we know this is the first time in the history of the compacts that an IMT team has crossed INTER-compact lines to manage international fires.

The map of the Fort McMurray Fire (Horse River Fire) below shows that it has been active over the last 24 hours on the north and east sides. It has burned 523,000 hectares (1.3 million acres or 2019 square miles).

Map Ft McMurray Fire
Map of the Fort McMurray Fire (Horse River Fire). The purple line was the approximate perimeter the morning of May 18, 2016. The dots represent heat detected by a satellite within the last 24 hours, with the most recent, as late as 3:15 p.m. MDT May 23, 2016. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Our main article about the Fort McMurray Fire.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris and others.

Fort McMurray Fire as seen from space

Fort McMurray fire
Fort McMurray fire, May 12, 2016. NASA.

NASA provided these images of the wildfire at Fort McMurray (Horse River Fire) in Alberta as seen from the Landsat 8 satellite. The one above was acquired on May 12, a day when there was little activity on the fire. In contrast to that, check out the image below taken on May 16 when conditions were very different.

Our most recent comprehensive article about the Fort McMurray Fire is HERE.

Fort McMurray fire, May 16
Fort McMurray fire, May 16, 2016. NASA.

Fort McMurray Fire spreads into Saskatchewan

(UPDATED at 10:40 a.m. MDT, May 19, 2016)

Fort McMurray Fire wildfire map
Map of the Fort McMurray Fire (Horse River Fire). The purple line was the approximate perimeter the morning of May 18, 2016. The dots represent heat detected by a satellite within the last 24 hours, with red being the most recent, as late as 10:25 p.m. MDT May 18, 2016. Click on the map to see a larger version.

The Fort McMurray Fire (Horse River Fire) was not as active Wednesday as it has been in the preceding three days, but it did move east several kilometers and crossed the boundary from Alberta into Saskatchewan.

The weather forecast through Sunday calls for more moderate conditions and a good chance of rain on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Next week should be clear and warmer.


(UPDATE at 8:50 a.m. MDT, May 18, 2016)

Above: Video of the Fort McMurray Fire approaching the Noralta Camp, shot by CEO Ft. Mckay Enterprises.

The Fort McMurray Fire (Horse River Fire) has enlarged its footprint over the last two days to 422,898 hectares (1,045,022 acres, 1,632 square miles). On May 16 it was mapped at 284,000 hectares (702,000 acres, 1,097 square miles). The east side of the fire is approximately 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the Saskatchewan border.

On Tuesday the fire reached the Black Sands Camp and burned the Executive Lodge with its 665 units in spite of the building’s sprinkler system. It next spread to the Noralta Camp that houses 3,000 people, but at the last report firefighters held the fire at bay with no damage to the structures.

Black Sands Camp wildfire
Black Sands Camp just north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Via Karen Lavallee
Fort McMurray Fire map
Map of the Fort McMurray Fire (Horse River Fire). The red line was the approximate perimeter the morning of May 16, 2016. The white line was from May 17. The dots represent heat detected by a satellite within the last 24 hours, with red being the most recent, as late as 3.32 a.m. MDT May 18, 2016. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Two houses recently exploded in Fort McMurray, damaging ten other nearby homes. The causes are unknown.

The warm, dry weather that has contributed to this growth will continue today with a high temperature at Fort McMurray of 75 °F, a relative humidity of 28 percent, west winds at 8 to 12 mph, and partly cloudy skies. That will change on Thursday when it should be 20 °F cooler with an RH above 60 percent, and a 50 percent chance of rain.

Continue reading “Fort McMurray Fire spreads into Saskatchewan”