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300 soldiers being deployed to help with Alberta wildfires

Last Updated May 11, 2023 at 8:11 pm MDT

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith meets with members of the military in Edmonton who are on stand-by to help with the wildfires before she gave an update on the situation in Alberta on Monday May 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Canadian government says 300 soldiers are being deployed to help tackle the wildfires ensnaring Alberta, which have forced thousands of people out of their homes.

Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair acknowledged the “unprecedented wildfire situation currently taking place in Alberta,” adding the federal government has agreed to a request for assistance from the province.

“We are already moving resources into those communities from the Canadian Armed Forces and other resources to provide the assistance that they requested,” he said.

“They also asked for expertise in construction engineering — and the Canadian Armed Forces is located in Alberta and has that equipment and can do that job.”

About 200 troops have been deployed to help with the fight, while 100 more will join the battle on the weekend.

Read More: ‘Unprecedented’: Bill Blair says military help on the way to battle Alberta wildfires

Meanwhile, Alberta Minister Mike Ellis states that Grande Prairie, Fox Creek, and Drayton Valley areas will receive troops.

More than 7,000 Drayton Valley residents were instructed to leave their homes on May 4.

Soldiers and resources will be provided for two weeks, adding a one-week extension may be possible if necessary.

Alberta is still in a state of emergency, which was declared Saturday.

There are 77 active wildfires as of Thursday evening, with 24 out of control. Seventeen are being held, and 367 are being held and are not expected to grow beyond the boundaries, the province says.

Meanwhile, the province says over 6,500 applications have been received from people seeking emergency financial assistance.

Around $2 million in email transfers were sent to evacuees, and $77,000 in debit cards have been given out.

Evacuee numbers down, thousands still unhoused

The province says 16,493 people remain out of their homes, down from a high of nearly 31,000 at its peak. Meanwhile, fire crews from B.C., Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Yukon have recently joined the fight.

It also says more than 800 wildland firefighters, heavy equipment, and air tankers are responding to the fires.

Soldiers will help support firefighting efforts, help in mop-up operations, and will aid in evacuating isolated communities.

However, Blair said the military is not prepared to fulfill one request from Alberta.

“They also asked, for example, that the Canadian Armed Forces would be deployed to provide security in evacuated communities, and that’s a policing function,” he said.

“I’ve said we’re not going to provide the military to do that because that’s not what they are there for.”

Evacuation orders have been lifted for the remainder of Yellowhead County, including Evansburg, Wildwood, Lobstick Resort, Hansonville, and Brazeau Dam.

Meanwhile, operations for Wildwood and Hansonville began at 8 a.m.

Indigenous Services Canada said that wildfires are threatening four First Nations in Alberta, including the Little Red River Cree Nation, where more than 100 structures have been lost in the community of Fox Lake.

Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation has also seen fires destroy 45 structures and power infrastructure.

However, five First Nations are no longer considered under a serious threat, while 12 others were identified as being on watch for a “threat of wildfire.”

The cooler weather in recent days has allowed many people to return home, but officials warned temperatures are expected to rise again in the coming days.

“I would ask Albertans to remain vigilant,” said Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire. “We are not out of the woods.”

On Thursday, the Alberta government announced plans to join the federal government in a donation-matching program with the Canadian Red Cross for disaster relief efforts that would see every $1 donated become $3.

Albertans who would like to help can make cash donations through the Canadian Red Cross or within their regions to a recognized charitable organization.

In addition, evacuees are encouraged to visit emergencyregistration.alberta.ca to register, or at local reception centres.

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Meanwhile, in a statement Thursday, King Charles expressed sympathy for those affected by the blazes.

“My wife and I were deeply concerned to learn of the wildfires ravaging communities in Western Canada,” his statement from the Governor General’s office reads.

“We send our most special thoughts and prayers to all those who have been displaced and who have lost their homes, businesses, or property. We would also like to express our deepest admiration to the first responders and volunteers who have been working to bring the fires under control, while also supporting their neighbours and communities in need.

“We hold many fond memories of our visits to Western Canada and know that those affected will rise to this challenge with customary Canadian strength, resilience, and determination.”

‘Each day, it’s harder than the day before’

A resident of Drayton Valley, Deborah Guttman, 70, recalled she was getting ready for bed on the night of May 4 when the order came in to evacuate the town, located about 130 kilometres west of Edmonton.

Since then, she has been camping in her sons’ recreational vehicles in the parking lot of a Walmart in Spruce Grove, just outside Edmonton.

Guttman’s RV was among at least half a dozen that were parked in the lot Thursday afternoon.

“We’re relatively comfortable,” she said, sitting outside with her dog. “The community has been absolutely, incredibly wonderful, kind, and generous with gifts of food and gift cards and ? paper towels.”

The residents camping in the Spruce Grove Walmart parking lot say it is easier for them to buy necessities whenever they run short on supplies.

Although grateful to front-line workers, Guttman said she wasn’t expecting to be out of her home for so long.

“Each day, it’s harder than the day before,” she said.

Guttman said she is ready to go home and take a long shower.

“I think the unknown of this situation — those fears — affects you. You’re on edge a little bit more every day.”

Watch: Alberta communities band together, protect homes from wildfires

Guttman said she left her home with just her pets, medicine, and a pair of undergarments.

Local churches and organizations have been helping people living in their RVs with food, water, and other necessities.

Wayne Marsh, who has been parked in the same lot in Spruce Grove, said he feels safe being across from a police station.

Marsh left Drayton Valley last week and has since been camping in the parking lot with his wife and dog.

He said he didn’t want to go to the evacuation centres because he didn’t want to take from “people that are in absolute need.”

“We’re self-sufficient here.”

However, he said, their stay has been long and they “would love to be home.”

Marsh said his wife, who has multiple sclerosis, has been having a hard time cooped up inside a trailer.