Red Deer firemedics join Slave Lake battle

Two Red Deer firemedics are returning home to Slave Lake to battle the wildfire that engulfed the northern Alberta town Sunday night.

Two Red Deer firemedics are returning home to Slave Lake to battle the wildfire that engulfed the northern Alberta town Sunday night.

The men used to work for the Slave Lake Fire Department and both have relatives living in the town that was evacuated over the weekend, said Red Deer fire chief Jack MacDonald.

They left Monday to join the more than 120 urban firefighters arriving from across the province to help battle the blaze that has damaged or destroyed up to one-third of Slave Lake.

“Right now they just need people who know their way around, so we sent the two that do,” he said.

“They’re familiar with the terrain. They’ll know where they can get water, where the roads go. All that local knowledge will be invaluable.”

They will remain in Slave Lake as long as their services are required, MacDonald said.

Air Spray, which runs its forest fire air tanker operation out of the Red Deer Regional Airport, is now fully deployed with all of its 13 aircrafts battling some of the 115 wildfires burning across Alberta, 36 of which are out of control.

The company has been primarily focusing its efforts on the fires burning at Slave Lake and near Fort McMurray, said Air Spray vice-president Paul Lane.

Crews were fighting the Slave Lake blaze all day Sunday and were out again on Monday.

Dry conditions and fierce winds that reached upwards of 100 km/h created one of the worst Alberta wildfires that Lane can recall.

“This one just took off unbelievably. At one stage there, our guys were saying Mother Nature had taken over and was putting on a show,” he said.

“This is just as bad as it gets.”

The fire ripped through Slave Lake on Sunday night, resulting in the mandatory evacuation of the town’s 7,000 residents.

The town hall, library and numerous homes were destroyed in the blaze.

Air Spray was also evacuated from its base in town.

Lane said pilots were diverted to Whitecourt, which is roughly 200 km south of Slave Lake, because it was the nearest base available.

Both Lane and MacDonald said the one positive to come out of this disaster is that there have been no injuries or deaths reported.

“In the mist of a horrible story, the good news is nobody’s died,” MacDonald said.

“But this is an opportunity for people to help their neighbours.”

Central Albertans can donate to the Canadian Red Cross by calling 403-346-1241, visiting www.redcross.ca or going into the Red Deer office at #105, 5301 43 St., which is located behind The Vat.

ptrotter@bprda.wpengine.com