Alberta firefighter seriously injured working near East Prairie Métis Settlement

A wildland firefighter from East Prairie Métis Settlement is being treated for severe injuries after a tree fell on him while fighting the wildfire.

'News like this is felt by every firefighter,' said Alberta Wildfire official

A man with short hair and sunglasses in a yellow jacket sits in a car, looking at the camera, in a selfie-style photo.
Wildland firefighter Frankie Payou is in hospital with severe injuries following an accident while fighting a wildfire near East Prairie Métis Settlement. (Frankie Payou/Facebook)

A wildland firefighter from East Prairie Métis Settlement has severe injuries after a tree fell on him, his family says.

Frankie Payou was helping firefighting efforts on Sunday when a partly burned tree broke and hit his head and shoulders, according to his girlfriend's cousin, Jessica Supernault. She said Payou has been a wildland firefighter for 14 years.

Supernault told CBC that Payou was airlifted to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, where he is in a coma in the intensive care unit with a brain bleed, broken ribs, and liver and kidney damage. 

Residents of East Prairie Métis Settlement, about 165 kilometres east of Grande Prairie, were forced from their homes by an out-of-control wildfire on May 5.

Payou's family evacuated with an hour's notice as smoke and fire approached their house. His girlfriend, Melodie Robinson, is five months pregnant, and she left with their three children while Payou stayed behind to try to prevent the house from burning down, Supernault said.

Payou sprayed down the house and built a fire break around it, then left to save a neighbouring house, but less than 15 minutes later, Supernault said Payou's house was engulfed in flames.

Community leaders say at least 27 homes were burned — 14 had people living in them.

Although he lost his home, Payou stayed in East Prairie to keep fighting the fire that's still threatening the community.

man holding baby
Payou, pictured with one of his children, was injured on Sunday. His girlfriend is five months pregnant, and she and their three children fled East Prairie when the community was forced to evacuate. (Melodie Joy Sutherland/Facebook)

Supernault set up a GoFundMe page for her cousin's family, initially hoping to raise money to rebuild their house. But after Payou was hurt, the focus of the fundraiser changed.

"They are just kind of waiting, and Melodie has been by his side and praying with their little girl, and we're just hoping that he makes a full recovery," Supernault said.

With no home to go back to and Payou in the hospital, his girlfriend and three children are staying in Edmonton supporting his recovery, Supernault said.

"When the house burned, Melodie was just thankful that her family was OK. And then this happened to Frankie."

At Wednesday's daily wildfire update, Alberta Wildfire information unit manager Christie Tucker confirmed that a firefighter in the area of East Prairie Métis Settlement was seriously injured. 

"News like this is felt by every firefighter, and our hearts sincerely go out to his family," she said.

"This is a reminder to all of us about the challenges faced by firefighters and the risks involved with wildfire."

Tucker added that she doesn't have details about any other injuries among firefighters.

"There are obviously risks to this profession," she said. "We prioritize the safety of firefighters very, very highly. We're all part of the same firefighting family and nobody wants to see an injury, particularly a bad injury."

As of Wednesday afternoon, 91 wildfires are burning inside Alberta's forest protection areas, and 27 are classified as out of control.


Katarina Szulc is a reporter for CBC News in Edmonton. She previously worked at CityNews 1130 in Vancouver. You can email story ideas to Katarina.Szulc@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press