Red Deer fire chief Brian Makey says watching the wildfires ravage Fort McMurray, hits home, and hits home hard.
Makey is a former fire chief for the municipality and worked in various roles for close to 30 years before coming to Red Deer in late 2014.
“It was rough last night,” said Makey. “I won’t lie. I was pretty emotional last night waiting for 12 hours for my family and friends to get out of there. We finally got a hold of my loved ones.”
Makey’s son works for the municipality and returned to Fort McMurray to help out. Many of his friends have lost homes and will be staying with Makey’s family for the time being.
“To date, there haven’t been any reports of injuries or death,” said Makey. “When you think about the magnitude of evacuating 80,000 people and you think about how chaotic that could be, it is amazing and it is a miracle that could happen. That shows how people can get through something and shows really how people can handle the chaos and fear around them.”
Makey said it has been tough speaking to the staff in Fort McMurray, with whom he worked shoulder-to-shoulder over the years, including Darby Allen, the regional fire chief for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Red Deer Emergency Services volunteered to send 10 firefighters to Fort Mac to relieve the firefighters who have been battling the fire for the last 24 hours straight. A forestry truck, command unit and one-ton pickup to carry supplies were also part of the convoy on Wednesday afternoon.
They will reassess after 48 hours to determine if more help is needed, said Makey. The city is also sending eight emergency social services workers.
Up to seven Red Deer RCMP officers were to head north on Wednesday with another eight on standby.
Mountain View County sent out 13 structural firefighters from Olds, Didsbury and Cairstairs late Tuesday evening. They arrived in Fort McMurray about 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday.
Brian Powell, Olds deputy fire chief, said they had a short briefing before they were immediately thrown into structural fire fighting and wild-line interface fire fighting. Olds Fire Chief Lorne Thompson is on the ground in Fort McMurray.
“We are working on relief and on the general tactic of trying to stop anything else from catching fire,” said Powell.
“There is no way we could have accomplished this without our neighbouring sister communities (such as) Sundre, Cremona and Torrington. They pledged additional assistance to help us in the event of a fire.”
Powell said the crews have experience battling large fires including the Nordegg wildfires. They made a four-day commitment and have put together a standby crew drawing from members of Mountain View County that will replace the 13-member crew on Friday evening.
Air Spray dispersed two groups of airplanes — a bird dog and a water tanker — from its operations base at the Red Deer Airport to Fort McMurray on Tuesday.
Perry Dancause, Air Spray Ltd. director of flight operations, said by Wednesday afternoon they expected to have six out of its nine groups battling the fires.
“We are just coming out of our heavy maintenance winter season,” said Dancause. “The fire season is starting three weeks to a month ahead of time. We are just waiting for the rest of our airplanes to be finished and get them out the door and deployed.
“(Wednesday) afternoon is going to be very interesting for Alberta. The whole province is tinder dry and they are expecting a low pressure system to move through with lightning. That could very easily translate to new starts.”