US Helps Canada Battle Early, Frightening Wildfire Season, Worries About Own Situation

WASHINGTON — The United States is happy to help Canada weather its frightening start to the wildfire season, but it is keeping tabs on its own situation, worried about when its resources might be needed south of the border.

There are currently 345 American firefighters and support personnel on the ground in Canada, including 13 fire suppression teams and one situation management team.

That number is expected to fluctuate daily as workers return to the United States and then depart to respond to requests for additional assistance, the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center said Friday.

“We are more than willing to provide Canada with as many resources as possible, as they have done for us in the past,” said National Interagency Coordination Group Chairman Jeff Arnberger.

“We were fortunate to have a fairly calm start to the fire season nationally on our side. However, now that we are entering the summer months which are traditionally very busy, we must also prepare for wildfires in the United States.

A total of 649 U.S. personnel have rotated to Canada since the beginning of May to help local crews weather a fire season that has started much earlier than usual and is expected to set many records.

This number does not include coordinated resources at the state level, which also participate in efforts under smaller-scale agreements with some provinces.

More than 100 firefighters and support workers have notably been sent to Alberta, Nova Scotia and Quebec so far this year, as have four air tankers from Alaska and Washington state.

A 17-person suppression team with members from Connecticut, New York, Maine and New Hampshire has also been formed to help Nova Scotia. Another similar team is also in training to be sent to Quebec.

Impacts in the United States

Wildfires in Canada didn’t catch the eye of Americans, until the smoke they produced drifted south and triggered air quality alerts in several major cities across the United States.

On Thursday, the New York Post even headlined “Blame Canada!” on its front page to accompany an image of the orange sky that covered the city on Wednesday.

But cooler temperatures and a strong breeze helped mitigate air quality health risks on Friday, as alerts gradually began to return to more manageable levels.

Canada’s Interagency Forest Fire Center is in constant contact with its American counterpart and will need more help in the near future, spokeswoman Jennifer Kamau said.

“We are in ongoing talks with our American partners and have an attempt (mobilization) scheduled for next week,” said Ms. Kamau.

Conversely, it is still too early to know what resources might be needed in the coming weeks in the United States, or even if Canada will soon be asked to return the favor to its neighbor to the south.

“These situations can change quickly,” noted Ms. Kamau. It is difficult to say what our fire situation will be if or when a need arises from one of our international partners.