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Pursuit of a Common Goal

As soon as the first fire was spotted on the afternoon of May 14, the Sustainable Resource Development team (SRD) sprang into action. So too did regional firefighters, municipal workers, local businesses and the citizens of Lesser Slave River. Though these disparate groups had vastly different resources, abilities and knowledge, they worked together in pursuit of a common goal: protection of their communities.

Fanned by winds reaching 100 km/h and fueled by a bone-dry forest, the fire spread incredibly quickly. Midafternoon on day one, it was a by-the-numbers firefighting operation similar to the hundreds that SRD douse every year. But by the next day, there were two fires burning out of control and heading straight toward densely populated areas.

"We were all working in different parts of town. The smoke was incredible and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face."
— Jamie Coutts, Fire Chief (Emeritus), Lesser Slave Regional Fire Services

As bad as the situation seemed, it grew even worse. Power failed. Water supplies ran dry. Air support was grounded due to excessive winds. Radio communications went down. Key structures and apparatus were consumed by the flames. Despite this progressive worsening of the odds, heroic individuals of every stripe stayed behind to fight. The effects of the fire were devastating to say the least, but they could have been far worse were it not for the tireless efforts, quick decisions and selfless acts of firefighters, RCMP, Sustainable Resource Development, Motor Transport, Fish and Wildlife, MD Council and staff, Town Council and staff, private businesses and countless public citizens.

In the heat of battle, the course of events and responses is always fast and often confusing. Now that the smoke has cleared, the critical roles played by certain groups and individuals have become more apparent and remarkable. This section is dedicated to recognition of their contributions.

Emergency Operations Facts and Figures

The following details were curated from media reports, provincial statistics and boots on the ground.

Air Support

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Air Tankers and Helicopters Dot the Sky

Red fugitive dye from water bombers can be seen in satellite photos of the Lesser Slave River region. This dye is added to fire retardants so that pilots can see their drops on vegetation from the air. It eventually fades on exposure to UV light.

Extreme Conditions

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Sustained Winds Temporarily Ground Aircraft

As sustained 100 km/hr winds fanned the flames of the wildfires, they also hindered regional air support. At certain critical points of the firefight, aircraft had to be grounded due to high wind speeds.

ARC

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Animal Rescue Efforts

In the span of six days, the Animal Rescue Committee of Slave Lake (ARC) rescued more than 300 animals left behind during the evacuation. Without such intervention, most these pets and livestock would have been casualties of the wildfires.

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Specialized Aircraft Provide Support

The CL-215T is an amphibious, flying boat-type aircraft specifically designed as an air tanker. It can scoop up to 5,400 litres of water from a lake, and also injects fire retardsnt foam into the water load to make it more effective.

Hot Spots

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Surveying the Damage

Firefighters from the High Level fire department check for hot spots near a destroyed home near downtown Slave Lake.

Valiant Efforts

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Local Crew Holds Fast

The 40-strong crew of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Services ran on adrenaline, wits and very little sleep to hold the unprecedented wildfires at bay until contingent crews arrived from neighbouring regions to provide reinforcement.

Boots on the Ground

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SRD Checks for Hotspots

As part of a Strike Team, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) Wildfire Rangers check for hot-spots near the site of the point of origin for the fire.

Fanned by 100 km/hr winds, the May 2011 wildfires moved faster and more forcefully than any prior event in Canada's history.

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