Raging flames have demolished at least 16 structures in northern Alberta, and closer to home, Red Deer firefighters are determined to protect the city.
City personnel responded to at least four outdoor fires on Thursday, including a small brush fire in the Pines area. Firefighters received more reports of flames on Friday, but nothing was found.
“Brush fires just don’t start,” said city fire marshal Wes Van Bavel. “Yes, it can be an act of God if it’s lightning. Apart from that, there’s a reason it’s starting.”
Travis Allred, who was among four Red Deer County firefighters who travelled to High Level to fight the flames, calls the challenge “surreal.”
Air quality alerts have blanketed the province as 29 active fires burn in Alberta — 10 that are out of control — and 10,000 people have been evacuated. The smokey air has prompted the cancellation of a number of outdoor sporting events, including Friday’s city high school rugby championship.
The City of Red Deer and Red Deer County have imposed fire bans.
“This fight is going to be a tough one,” said Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake.
“The weather is not co-operating for the long-distance forecast for the next two weeks. It’s more of the same, of hot, dry and windy conditions.”
Whether they are caused by improper disposal of cigarette butts, children playing with lighters or matches, or people building a fire where they shouldn’t — fires don’t need to happen, Van Bavel said.
“We’re constantly dealing with grass fires. But thankfully, nothing has gotten out of control, where we’ve had to evacuate areas or lose large portions of our urban forest areas.”
He said the parks department does a good job trying to mitigate some of the potential fire risk in the city’s urban forests.
“But I’m sure everybody in Red Deer can appreciate the vastness of our system. We do our best, but we do need the help from the citizens of Red Deer to stop those fires before they happen.”
Allred, the deputy chief of training with Red Deer County, returned Wednesday from helping to fight the fire near High Level. He said the wildfire was “a little surreal with the amount of smoke and the amount of equipment.”
Allred said the crew helped to protect the mill operated by Norbord Inc., a major employer in the area.
“While we were up there, we were tasked with doing nighttime patrols so the fire didn’t cross the highway. They had us in place there to ensure that we could protect the mill if any embers had crossed over in that direction. Luckily, it didn’t,” Allred said.
He said attack crews could be called in if necessary, but the county firefighters were able to handle all the hot spots they encountered.
— With files from The Canadian Press