Edmonton troops deploying to B.C. wildfires will arrive ‘ready to go,’ defence minister says

Click to play video: 'Fire rating danger extreme in most areas of the southern half of province' Fire rating danger extreme in most areas of the southern half of province
WATCH: Meteorologist Yvonne Schalle explains why there has been a slight reprieve from smoky skies and the fire danger rating in the Wednesday, July 21 forecast for British Columbia. – Jul 21, 2021

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Alberta military personnel being deployed to British Columbia will be ready to hit the ground running as they join wildfire fighting efforts.

Sajjan announced Tuesday that 350 troops from Edmonton would be sent to the province to help the BC Wildfire Service, which has been stretched to its limits.

The military was already providing air support to the B.C. firefighting efforts, and Sajjan told CKNW’s The Afternoon Show on Wednesday it had the next wave of troops waiting in Edmonton for an official request from B.C.

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Read more: B.C. wildfire update Wednesday: ‘A bad stretch of weather ahead of us,’ premier says

The Canadian Armed Forces said it received that provincial request to help with the firefighting efforts in the Vernon area on July 19.

“We had put what’s called an immediate response unit, about 300 soldiers, on standby in case in case additional resources are needed to actually fight the fires,” Sajjan said.

“They’ve already have the training, the type-three firefighting training. So what that means is when they arrive, they’re ready to go.”

The army said the immediate response unit (IRU) of up to 350 CAF personnel from Edmonton will begin deploying this week.

They’ll help the BC Wildfire Service’s operations in a variety of ways, including monitoring the fire line and “mop up” procedures to ensure fires remain suppressed by extinguishing or removing burning and hazardous material along the fire’s edge, the military said.

The current national defence policy is to have enough such response units on standby across the country to deal with multiple crises at once, a situation that has borne out under climate change, Sajjan said.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfire: Close encounter with fast-moving fire near Ashcroft' B.C. wildfire: Close encounter with fast-moving fire near Ashcroft
B.C. wildfire: Close encounter with fast-moving fire near Ashcroft – Jul 21, 2021

CAF support fo the B.C. wildfires has been requested until Aug. 30, the military said on Thursday, adding that may change based on the fire situation.

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Along with the B.C. deployment, troops are currently in the field in the Yukon, battling floods, and in Manitoba fighting fires.

As troops are deployed, additional soldiers will be rotated in, trained, and put on standby Sajjan said.

“(We) monitor very closely, working with the provinces and territories, and when that’s when the official request is made. We already know exactly what is needed to respond so there is absolutely no delay in getting the support there,” he said.

The deployment was unrelated to B.C.’s state of emergency, he said, with the request for help made through an independent process.

Read more: B.C. declares provincial state of emergency due to wildfires

About 90 per cent of service personnel are vaccinated against COVID-19, he added.

The exact date the troops will arrive and locations where they will be deployed has not been announced, but they are expected to build fire lines on high-priority fires, tackle hotspots, and hold existing fire lines.

Last Thursday, the BC Wildfire Service said it was completely taxed, and that it was “unable to commit to all new ignitions” with existing resources.

As of Wednesday, there were more than 3,000 people battling 282 fires across the province.

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A 20-person crew of firefighters from Quebec arrived on Friday, while another 100 firefighters from Mexico are expected to arrive on Saturday.

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