130 U.S. firefighters deployed to wildfires in Canada

Five wildland fire suppression crews and 30 fireline management personnel are being mobilized to Canada to assist with fire suppression operations. Canada is experiencing an intense fire season and has requested wildland firefighting assistance from the United States.

The five 20-person wildland fire suppression crews were dispatched through the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho. Four of the crews are comprised of U.S. Forest Service firefighters from California, while one is a hotshot crew from the National Park Service in Estes Park, Colorado. The crews and the fireline management personnel will arrive in Edmonton, Alberta and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, over the weekend and will deploy to wildland fire incidents in both provinces. The U.S. also sent one heavy air tanker, a BAe-146, to Grande Prairie, Canada on July 5.

Fire in Jasper National Park requires evacuation of park visitors by helicopter

Fire near Excelsior Creek
Fire near Excelsior Creek in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. Photo by Parks Canada.

(UPDATED at 3:40 p.m. MT, July 10, 2015)

Map of fire in Excelsior Creek
The brown and red dots represent heat detected by a satellite of a fire in Excelsior Creek in Jasper National Park. The most recent detections were at 5:18 a.m., July 10, 2015.

The map above shows the approximate location of the fire at 5:18 a.m. on June 10 in Excelsior Creek in Jasper National Park in Alberta. The fire in the Maligne Valley is approximately 9 miles (15 km) east of the community of Jasper.

Friday morning it was reported to have burned approximately 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres). Friday afternoon a light rain fell in the area, slowing the spread for a while.

****

(Originally published at 10 a.m. MT, July 10, 2015)

With a wildfire in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada spreading rapidly, fire managers evacuated about 82 people, including 52 that were flown off the Skyline trail by helicopter.

The fire was reported at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday approximately 15 km (9 miles) south of the municipality of Jasper. Visitors are being evacuated from the Maligne Valley, the Skyline trail, and Maligne Lake.

Below is an excerpt from the Edmonton Journal:

“We see this as the highest priority fire in the national parks right now,” said David Smith, a fire and vegetation specialist for Jasper who is also serving as incident commander.

According to Smith, the fire is between 200 and 250 hectares [494 to 618 acres] in size, moving at about 15 metres [49 feet] per minute. As temperatures drop and the sun sets, the fire is expected to “settle down” overnight.

Crews are currently fighting the fire by air only as conditions prove too hazardous for ground crews at this time. Despite the high number of fires across the prairies, there are crews slated to arrive in Jasper Friday, before noon.

Though the fire is currently out of control, Smith said people in Jasper need not worry about their safety. At this time there are no park facilities in the way of the fire and because the wind is pushing the fire up to Maligne Lake, Smith said, “the town of Jasper is 100-per-cent safe.”

The video below is a 2-hour time-lapse of the smoke from the fire, shot Thursday from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., compressed to 30 seconds.

These next photos are general shots of fires and firefighters in Alberta, sourced from the Facebook page for “Alberta Wildfire Info”.

Fire north of Slave Lake
Fire north of Slave Lake, July 9, 2015
Firefighters from Jalisco, Mexico
Firefighters from Jalisco, Mexico assisting with wildfires in Alberta.

Alberta firefighters

Alberta firefighter

The fitness test for Canadian firefighters

WFX-FIT test ramp
The ramp used in the WFX-FIT test

The two articles about the fitness test for wildland firefighters in the United States published yesterday on Wildfire Today have generated significant interest so far, judging from the number of comments left by our readers in the last 24 hours. The fitness test we are referring to is the Pack Test version of the Work Capacity Test which requires carrying 45 pounds (20.4 kg) for three miles on flat ground (4.83 km) in less than 45 minutes. Federal land management agencies in the U.S. and some fire departments require that firefighters pass the test each year in order to work on the fireline.

It was a coincidence that the two articles appeared on the same day. Rae Brook’s piece about a possible new and tougher version of a fitness test for hotshot crews had been in the pipeline for weeks and was just completed yesterday, about the same time that we received word of the unfortunate fatality of someone who was attempting to take the test two days earlier.

We learn a lot from comments left by our readers. “BC Initial Attack” informed us about the fitness test required of Type 1 Firefighters in Canada. The WFX-FIT, which first saw widespread use in 2012, is described as “a valid job-related physical performance standard used to determine whether an individual possesses the physical capabilities necessary to meet the rigorous demands encountered while fighting wildland fires.”

The components of the  WFX-FIT, after pre-participation screening are:

WFX-FIT circuits

The pump, or simulated pump, weighs 62.7 pounds (28.5 kg). The simulated hose that is dragged is represented by a 40.7 pound (18.5 kg) weighted sled. The hose pack weighs 55 pounds (25 kg).

WFX-FIT hose drag

Firefighters must be able to complete the test within 14 minutes and 30 seconds to be eligible for the National Exchange. The  Ontario Provincial Standard is 17 minutes and 15 seconds, the Alberta Provincial Standard is 14 minutes and 20 seconds, and the British Columbia standard is 14 minutes and 30 seconds. A score between 14 minutes and 31 seconds and 17 minutes and 15 seconds will meet the Ontario Provincial Standard but will not permit deployment outside of Ontario.

The photos are from the WFX-FIT website and the above video.

Aerial photo of wildfire near Smith, Alberta

In this photo of a fire near Smith, Alberta, Canada the use of aerial retardant is evident.

Fire officials are calling the fire “held”, which means it will not grow under the current weather conditions and firefighting actions that have been taken on the fire.

It has been mapped at 139 hectares (343 acres). Still assigned to the fire are 40 firefighters and six helicopters.

Alberta: Spreading Creek Fire

The Alberta department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development posted this video of the Spreading Creek fire. It includes scenes showing a briefing for firefighters, hose lays, sprinklers, fireline construction in heavy timber, helicopter drops, and single engine air tankers. It was uploaded to YouTube on June 11, 2014.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to JW.

Canadian fires continue to rage, “worst fire season in years”

Dry heat is fueling several out of control wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia this week, where fire officials say this is the worst fire season the region has seen since 2003.

There are 156 fires burning in Canada’s Northwest Territories, The Toronto Sun reports.

As of Monday morning, around 11 fires were burning out of control in Alberta, according to the province’s wildfire situation report. Meanwhile, the explosive Spreading Creek fire near Banff National Park, British Columbia, is being held for the first time since lightning ignited it on July 3, The Calgary Herald reported. The fire had burned more than 6,800 hectares (around 16,800 acres) as of July 14.

The fire has intermittently shut down parts of the Icefields Parkway that winds from Banff to Jasper. Photos capturing its spectacular plume of smoke have sparked an international interest in the fire.

 

While fires spread on both sides of the national park, conditions are no different in BC’s interior, where a fire ignited on Tuesday in tinder-dry country near West Kelowna. The so-called Mount Boucherie fire had burned around 12 acres by Tuesday evening, and was being held by fire retardant lines, local media reported. The fire continued to burn into Tuesday night.

West Kelowna is in a fire-prone corridor known for regular wildfires. In 2003 in nearby Kelowna, lightning ignited the Okanagan Mountain Park fire, which went on to burn hundreds of homes and prompted the largest fire-evacuation in Canadian history.

I’ve spent some time in Kelowna and last year wrote a story about the Okanagan Mountain fire, ten years after the historic blaze. It had some eerie parallels to another wildfire, the Waldo Canyon fire, which I covered while working at The Gazette in Colorado Springs. Read my story on the Okanagan Mountain fire here.