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How firefighters from several countries have been enlisted to battle wildfires in Alberta


Two weeks into June, Alberta has already seen 635 wildfires across the province.

Officials have called the 2023 season unprecedented, with evacuations happening across multiple communities at the same time.

The province's firefighting resources have been stretched thin, but thanks to a national agency, relief has been flooding in from around the world.

Firefighters from the United States, South Africa and New Zealand have travelled to Alberta to fight the fires, and 100 firefighters from Chile and Costa Rica are expected to arrive on Tuesday, before more South African firefighters arrive in coming days.

Those resources are organized by the Canadian Interagency Fire Fighting Centre (CIFFC), which helps ensure all Canadian provinces and territories have the firefighting resources they need for wildfires.

"We follow a scale called the national preparedness levels, and it's a scale from one to five," said CIFFC communications manager Jennifer Kamau. "As we kind of move up the scale, which describes the activity for wildland fire and the amount of resources that are available nationally, then we can kind of determine at what point we will need to engage our international partners."

Kamau said Canada hit a five on the scale on May 12 as a result of the wildfire situation in Alberta.

As wildfire activity increased across the country, Kamau said Canada has had to request an unusually large number of international resources.

"It's definitely an unprecedented season. It started early, and it has accelerated quickly. So this is probably the most we've seen happening all at once," she said. "The number of resources we've had to request internationally as well as the amount of fire activity across the country, that is definitely, I would say, out of the ordinary."

Alberta Wildfire said 2,496 people have come from other parts of Canada and around the world to help fight the fires in Alberta so far this year.

That does not include the resources arriving this week.

There are currently over 1,000 firefighters from outside Alberta in the province.


"Obviously we’re going to use our firefighters here in Alberta as much as we can, but everyone’s going to need rest at some point," said Travis Fairweather of Alberta Wildfire.

"We have a logistics department that is working hard to make sure that when one group of firefighters is going on rest that another group is able to come in, fill in for them, take over, and then hopefully it's just a seamless transition between one agency to the next."

Fairweather said all firefighters contracted through CIFFC are trained to a certain standard to make the transition as smooth as possible.

"They can come, they can hit the ground right away, they don’t need days or weeks of training in order to be safe and effective out there."

While they're already skilled in fighting fires, there are resources to help firefighters coming from other countries with other aspects of the trip.

"We make sure we have agency representatives in place that speak all the languages that are able to communicate, we have safety briefings, we have briefings on just Alberta in general just to get them up to speed," Fairweather said.

Resources from outside the province usually stay in Alberta for about two weeks before they return home.

Fairweather said both Alberta firefighters and civilians have welcomed the out-of-province crews warmly.

"The reaction has been incredible. Everyone has been so appreciative of any help we can get from any agency," he said. "Our firefighters are all one big family, whether they're Alberta, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Costa Rica, United States, just anywhere. We're all one big family. We're all happy to see each other out there, work together, and everyone is just thrilled to have the help."

While it's Alberta that needs help this year, Fairweather said local firefighters have answered the call when firefighters were needed in other locations in the past.

"We have had some quiet seasons where we have been able to send some of our firefighters out as well and return the favour, and that’s just part of this big family that we have."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Miriam Valdes-Carletti Top Stories

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