Helicopter crashes, pilot dies fighting wildfire in Canada

Helicopter crashes, pilot dies fighting wildfire in Canada

Environment minister says government working to prevent more tragedies

By Barry Ellsworth

TRENTON, Canada (AA) – On the heels of the death of a helicopter pilot fighting wildfires in Alberta province, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Thursday Ottawa was doing all it can to prevent further tragedies.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Thursday that a 41-year-old Alberta resident was killed when his helicopter crashed Wednesday in a marshy area while fighting a wildfire in northern Alberta.

"From the bottom of my heart I want to thank the brave men and women who are working every day to keep our province safe on the front lines,” Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said on social media, Thursday. “This tragic loss is a reminder of how they put their lives on the line to keep us all safe."

That brings to four the number who have died from wildfires. Two firefighters were killed in the line of duty, while a nine-year-old boy died last week. The British Columbia youngster had asthma and the wildfire smoke was believed to have aggravated the condition, resulting in his death.

Guilbeault said since 2021 the government has spent CAN$65 million (US$49.32 million) on wildlife management programs that aim to support risk reduction and hire and train fire specialists.

While Canada experiences wildfires each year when the snow begins to melt in March, 2023 is already the worst on record with months to go before winter helps abate the number. Many are in the heavily forested northern areas of the provinces, kindled by lightning strikes or man-made campfires.

More than 885 wildfires are currently burning across the country, with 600 out of control, Guillbeault said. In Alberta, there were 117 active fires as of Thursday, with 17 out of control.

In the neighboring province of British Columbia (B.C.), the wildfire service said Tuesday that the 2023 season has been the most destructive in its history, with 14,100 square kilometers (5,444 square miles) of land burned.

As of July 17, 10 million hectares (24.17 million acres) had been consumed country-wide.

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