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How is the military helping Fort McMurray?

Four search-and-rescue helicopters, one transport plane and a handful of personnel are on the ground in Fort McMurray—and more await the call


 
Members of 417 Combat Support Squadron prepare to depart for Fort McMurray as part of Operation LENTUS 2016 at 4 Hangar, 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada May 4, 2016. (Cpl Manuela Berger/Canadian Armed Forces/Reuters)

Members of 417 Combat Support Squadron prepare to depart for Fort McMurray as part of Operation LENTUS 2016 at 4 Hangar, 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada May 4, 2016. (Cpl Manuela Berger/Canadian Armed Forces/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered the federal government’s “total support” in fighting the Fort McMurray wildfires and helping residents forced to flee their city. The Canadian Forces have sprung into action to provide specialized assistance—and right now, that means airborne help.

Brig.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, commander of Joint Task Force West based in Edmonton, said the military is working closely with the province to provide whatever Alberta needs. As of the afternoon on May 4, there were four CH-146 Griffon search-and-rescue helicopters in Fort McMurray, drawn from Canadian Forces bases in Edmonton and Cold Lake. A C-130 Hercules airplane—capable of landing on roads and other challenging surfaces in hard-to-access areas—from CFB Trenton was on standby in Cold Lake. Other aircraft stand at the ready in Trenton.

There were about 15 military personnel on the ground in Fort McMurray on May 4, but that number was likely to grow quickly. “That is very much just the tip of the spear,” Eyre said. “We have many more working on planning, and standing by, should the call come.”

Related: Want to help those fleeing Fort McMurray? Here’s how.

The wildfires that have destroyed vast swaths of Fort McMurray are a “very dynamic” situation that is shifting with the hours, he said. On the evening of May 3, it looked like people would not be able to evacuate by road, so the military had airplanes at the ready. Ultimately, those weren’t needed because residents were able to flee—albeit at frighteningly slow speeds along crowded and smoke-choked roads—via Highway 63 to the south.

So far, the “asks” from Alberta have been for three types of help, Eyre said: assisting city and provincial authorities in evacuating people in distress; evacuating people in isolated areas; and helping to transport local firefighters and equipment. Eyre said there had not yet been a request to transport firefighters from other provinces to help fight the flames consuming the oilsands city, but the military would do so if asked.

In a disaster like this one, the role of the military is to help in ways no one else can, he said. “What we are looking at providing are unique capabilities that the province does not have,” Eyre said. “We are the force of last resort, and as such, we come in when other civilian resources are exhausted.”

FMFAQ


 

How is the military helping Fort McMurray?

  1. Heart-breaking situation . Federal government should get much more involved to mitigate the situation and its impacts on Alberta by employing all federal resources possible (including military resources) to help extinguishing the fire as soon as possible and provide all need to the displaced people ( housing, accommodation, medical and everything they need, particularly those who don’t have enough insurance) Federal government sent plans all the way to Middle East and/or pay for the travel of 25000 refugees in a matter of several days and then put most of them in high quality hotels for few weeks . Later Federal government provided them with housing and accommodation and money allowance for all their needs. Now Canadian people in Alberta whose lives are impacted by this brutal fires ( most of them are labour and workers) should get all kinds of support (housing, accommodation, transportation allowance) from Federal government until their situations are resolved . This is a disaster: sympathy words are not enough, actions are required and quickly.

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