Army, giant helicopter coming in to fight Saskatchewan wildfires

By early evening Monday, 500 Canadian Armed Forces members are expected to be in northern Saskatchewan, getting prepped to fight wildfires in province's north, while a giant helicopter will be dropping water on the flames.

1,400 military personnel, dedicated chopper to work out of La Ronge

The Saskatchewan government brought in this Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter to help fight growing wildfires in northern Saskatchewan. The chopper arrived in Swift Current, Sask. to clear customs, then it flew on to Prince Albert, Sask, on July 6, 2015. (Submitted by Tami Wall)

By early evening Monday, 500 Canadian Armed Forces members are expected to be in northern Saskatchewan, getting prepped to fight wildfires in the province's north.

The wildfires cover an area that is 10 times larger than forest fires in previous years. As the need to fight fires escalates, the government has requested that troops be brought in to help.

The first 500 soldiers represent the immediate response team, while 900 more will be available if needed, according to the Department of National Defence. 

All members will be trained by Saskatchewan's wildfire management branch. The training for the first 500 members is expected to last 24 to 36 hours, at which point, the immediate response team will be in the thick of it, fighting the blazes.

Brig.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said the troops will work mostly around the La Ronge area, patrolling and putting out hot spots. 

"The last time we've done a forest fire to this extent was 2003 in B.C.," said Eyre, who is commander of Joint Task Force West and the 3rd Canadian Division.

Eyre said troops will be moving around in light armoured vehicles for off-road mobility.

All of the troops involved are regular military members, but reservists could be called in to be on standby, Eyre said. 

Steve Roberts, director of Wildfire Management with the Ministry of the Environment, said one of the biggest areas of concern is the Egg Lake fire north of La Ronge. 

North America's biggest helicopter to pitch in

By midday Monday, a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter had landed in Swift Current, halfway on its route to Prince Albert to help battle the wildfires.

The Saskatchewan Government has brought in a Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, similar to this one, from Montana to help fight encroaching wildfires in northern Saskatchewan. (Ross Andreson/The Associated Press)

Premier Brad Wall said it has the capacity of a water bomber with the agility of a helicopter. 

Provincial government officials said it can drop at least 1,000 gallons, or 3,785 litres, of flame-suppressant material and be more accurate than airplane tankers. 

The large-scale chopper joins a fleet of 50 choppers already deployed in the north.

Mike Gilpin, chief pilot with Helicopter Transport Services Inc., the owner of the chopper, said the large aircraft is approximately 27 metres long, 22 metres wide and 7.5 metres tall. 

"We're capable of picking up about (9,085 litres) of water and taking it to the fire," he said.

"It takes about 60 seconds to fill the tank, and then we're off to the fire," Gilpin confirmed. 

Fully fuelled, the chopper can do between 20 and 25 water drops in an hour, allowing it work for two hours straight before needing to be refueled, the pilot confirmed.

Gilpin predicted the manoeuvrability of the chopper would make it easier for pilots to navigate through poor visibility and smoky conditions, hopefully making drop work more efficient.


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