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Canadian Forces to assist in battle against B.C. wildfires

WATCH: Complete B.C. wildfire coverage

Canadian Forces aircraft are on their way to British Columbia to assist with the province’s out of control wildfires.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Sunday that Ottawa had received and approved a request for help battling the hundreds of wildfires that have prompted a state of emergency in the province.

Chris Duffy, executive director of Emergency Management BC, said three Griffon helicopters are due in Kelowna Sunday afternoon, and that several fixed wing aircraft are due later this week.

“The Canada Forces assets are a resource of last resort,” Duffy said.

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BC Wildfire crews will be prioritizing the use of provincial assets, but the military aircraft will be available for requests from the BC Wildfire Service, he said.

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“From a readiness stance they would consider it ‘forward leaning.’ So the helicopters that will go into Kelowna, they will be on standby and ready to support provincial efforts, whatever that ask may be.”

Duffy said the aircraft will not be pressed into immediate fire suppression efforts, though could be called on in that capacity by the province if needed.

However, aside from a half-dozen reconnaissance and liaison staff, no Canadian Forces ground troops are currently expected.

A Canadian Forces Griffon helicopter.
A Canadian Forces Griffon helicopter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said the last time soldiers were called on to help fight fires on the ground in B.C. was in 2003.

“At this point we would first utilize our partner agencies from around Canada for trained wildfire staff before we would turn to support from the armed forces in terms of a front line fire suppression role,” he said.

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Skrepnek said in order to trigger a request for ground forces, wildfire problems in other provinces would have to grow to the point where other fire services could no longer spare staff.