OP LENTUS 23 – IRU Fox Creek Fires
Alberta has been hit particularly hard in 2023 with one of the worst fire seasons on record causing thousands of civilians to be displaced from their homes, seeking shelter from a firestorm ranging across the province. On 29 May 23, D Sqn LdSH(RC), along with members of A sqn, answered the provincial request for aid. A Company of soldiers was dispatched to the Fox Creek Fires to relieve in place 1 CER and link up with incoming Australian Fire fighters. The early days on the fire saw most platoons recovering equipment such as hoses, water pumps and pump kits. The recovery of such equipment would prove invaluable in the coming weeks as the temperature in the region continued to climb. With the Company’s feet firmly established on the ground, platoon leaders created ties with fire fighting units from Australia, BC, and Alberta. These units helped train the soldiers on calling in water drops from helicopters in the area, to setting hose guards, to calling in heavy equipment when times were dire. Captain Johnson and 1 platoon were quick to answer the call when helicopter rides were offered, taking the best opportunities for photo ops while dealing with hot spots on the flanks of the fire. Ground in most areas ranged from swamp to muskeg, to combinations of both, making it extremely difficult at times for crews to traverse the terrain in search of hot spots. Attention from the firefighting leadership changed from fire 23, a mostly contained fire, to fire 27 as fire activity on the lines intensified. Members of 2 platoon under 2Lt Lauterbacher conducted recces into the southwest corner of the fire, finding active flames not previously known, as well as access routes for fire crews to enter and work on the fire. This region became one of the most active portions of the fire seeing several air assets and heavy equipment moved in to deal with the fire, which had jumped a river to continue its move southwest.
As the IRU neared the end of its second week, platoons were encompassed in main fire fighting tasks as the number of boots on the ground totaled almost 40% of the fighting force. Soldiers worked tirelessly to aid firefighters in their attempt to contain the fire, prevent flare ups from jumping fire guards and the fire continuing to grow out of control. Lt Snetzko and members of 3 platoon were dispatched to deal with a region of fire guard where the fire had jumped. Their efforts in the area prevented the fire from continuing a push towards key infrastructure in the area, and inevitably, the town of Fox Creek itself. The efforts of the soldiers on the ground gave firefighters in the area much needed assistance in continuing to contain the fire, making the area safe for civilian work and pattern of life to continue.
With days closing in on a return to Edmonton, Soldiers were joined by members of the Australian Arduous Crew for a dinner and photo prior to repatriation home. Soldiers of LdSH(RC) played a crucial role in containing the fires in the Fox Creek area and their efforts were met with appreciation from several members of the local community. As the Company pulled out of the region, rain moved into further aid in keeping the fires at bay. After a much needed time off the soldiers of LdSH(RC) stand ready to once again assist the province if or when they are called.