Monday, August 25, 2003
Albertans pitching in
Premier Klein sending food, reservists and firefighters to B.C.
By BILL KAUFMANN, Calgary Sun


KELOWNA -- Albertans are pitching in to douse the misery sparked by the wildfires menacing this Okanagan city.

And Premier Ralph Klein is apparently ready to answer the question "where's the beef" for Kelowna evacuees hard-pressed to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

"Ralph Klein has offered to feed the people of Kelowna," Beryl Itani, a spokeswoman for Kelowna's emergency social services, said yesterday. "And you probably know what we'd be eating."

Kelowna authorities also said Calgary Fire Department Chief Wayne Morris has offered people and equipment to fight the costly Okanagan Mountain blaze.

Ten Calgary firefighters were already on their way to Cranbrook yesterday to free up fire crews who will join the fire battle in Kelowna.

"We aren't trained in wildfires," said Calgary fire department spokesman John Conley.

"Cranbrook has that experience, so we'll provide services in Cranbrook, so they can go to Kelowna."

Local fire crews were in Cranbrook last week with two pumper trucks in case they were needed.

The firefighters returned, but the trucks remained in Cranbrook and, at the request of Alberta's fire commissioner's office, eight firefighters and two captains went back to B.C. last night.

"Everybody is trying to support the effort," Conley said.

And about 50 Calgary reservists have joined relief efforts in the region, trading automatic weapons for shovels and supplies in a bid to help save communities from the area's devastating forest fires.

The soldiers are currently stationed north of Kelowna while undergoing firefighting training and may see action within the next 24 hours, said Canadian Forces spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Paul Seguna.

"The two companies of reservists from 41 Brigade (Alberta) are in Vernon undergoing training and the leadership (element) were in the field today," he said.

The soldiers are expected to help fight the blaze head-on.

ON THE FRONT LINES

"They will be on the fire's front lines helping to suppress the fire, cutting fire lines, protecting buildings and digging out hot spots," said Seguna.

The soldiers are members of units belonging 41 Canadian Brigade Group, including the King's Own Calgary Regiment, the Calgary Highlanders, 33 Field Squadron and 14 Service Battalion.

In Kelowna, local offers of donations and services have also been staggering, said city officials.

"We've had a local businessman offer us his helicopter for our exclusive use," said Kelowna fire Chief Gerry Zimmermann.

"Food supplies aren't coming in by the crate, they're coming in by the pallet."

Firms such as McDonald's have also provided free or discounted food.

"The attitude here in Kelowna is fantastic, kind of humbling," said evacuee Dave Ingham, a recent arrival from Britain who was waiting to discover the fate of his home.