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 ordinary 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.

The Stark Reality

At a May 17 press conference, Calgary Fire Department Public Information officer Brian McAsey describes the removal of rubble from burned out communities, and the sheer impossibility of salvaging any personal effects.

Emergency Operations Facts and Figures

Flame Retardant

AIR SUPPORT
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.

Hot Spots

HOT SPOTS
Surveying the Damage

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

BOOTS ON THE GROUND
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.

Fire Crews

SURREAL SKY
Smoke Blocks out the Sun

On the first day of the wildfires, the sun was completely obscured by dense smoke, and the sky turned a deep orange.
Helicopter Support

EXTREME CONDITIONS
Sustained Winds Temporarily Ground Aircraft

Air support is thwarted by sustained 100 km/hr winds. Att certain critical points of the firefight, aircraft had to be grounded.

Songbird Festival

UNPRECEDENTED
Fires Claim 480 Homes

The May 2011 wildrires moved faster, and with more force – pushed by 100-kilometre-an-hour winds – than any other in recorded Canada history.

"I didn't think I was getting out alive. I honestly didn't for a few minutes."

Fire Crews

TIRELESS EFFORTS
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.
Fire Crews

AIR SUPPORT
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.
Animal Evacuation

ARC
Animal Rescue Efforts

In the span of six days, the ARC rescued more than 300 animals left behind during the evacuation.

Fire Crews

TIRELESS EFFORTS
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.
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