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Montana hotshot crews leave to fight Canadian wildfires

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 20:29:09-04

GREAT FALLS – Although wildfire season has not started in Montana, fires have been burning for weeks in Alberta, Canada.

An estimated 700,000 acres have burned, and 11,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes. However, more help is on the way.

Hotshot firefighter crews from across Montana have been asked to assist in the fight. Five Type One hotshot crews met at Holman Aviation in Great Falls to fly to Edmonton, Alberta on Wednesday.

Four of the five crews are from Region 1, which is the Northern Rockies in Montana. Those crews include: Helena, Bitterroot, Lolo and Flathead. The fifth crew was from Oregon: the Rogue River Hotshots.

Each hotshot crew typically has 20 people.

“We have been ordered to go north up into Edmonton. That part of Canada is in extreme drought and so consequentially their fire behavior and rates of spread is on the extreme end, so we’ll be prepared to go into an area that is demonstrating extreme fire behavior,” Flathead Hotshots Superintendent Shawn Borgen said.

Hotshot firefighters typically engage in larger fires that have difficult access and terrain.

“They’re fully ready to embrace whatever it is that they get, whatever assignments we get,” Lolo Hotshots Superintendent Shawn Faiella said.

“Where there’s help that we can provide, that’s where we’ll go,” said Cody Shiverton, a Rogue River Hotshot Senior Firefighter.

Typically, the deployments are a 14-day assignment, not including travel but the assignment could last as long as 21 days depending on the workload and need.

It helps that fire season in the United States has not started yet.

“Right now the wildfire situation in the lower 48 hasn’t set up yet, so that affords the opportunity to release some of our high-value assets like the hotshots,” Borgen said.

Hotshot firefighter crews are specially trained in wildfire suppression tactics.

“The mission of the hotshots, regardless of what country we deploy in, is to suppress problematic sections of fire,” Borgen added.

The hotshot crews did not know if they would assist with the same fire or separate, but whatever is decided, they know it’s a team effort.

“We’re honored to represent the United States,” Borgen said.

-Kasey Herman reporting for MTN News