Russia has offered to send Canada a number of “heavy water bombers” — converted Ilyushin II-76 transport planes — to help fight out of control wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta. According to a report from The Hamilton Spectator, Russian minister of emergency measures Vladimir Puchkov extended the offer late last week. The offer of help also included bringing Russian “rescuers and specialists with necessary equipment” into the country to assist in combating the blaze.
Kirill Kalinin, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Ottawa, said that they would continue to be “ready to help our Canadian partners to fight the ongoing wildfires in Alberta.”
Relations between Canada and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, but Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which came into power in November and replaced the very pro-American Conservative cabinet led by Stephen Harper, has said that it wishes to foster a more constructive relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russian government.
The Russians join a growing contingent of countries, including the United States, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Israel and Palestine who have extended offers of assistance to the Canadian government. All international assistance has thus far been turned down by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to Global News — a move that is drawing some criticism from Canadian citizens amid accusations that the Liberal government is not taking adequate action to combat the fires. Trudeau, meanwhile, indicated that water bombers from other provinces were already inbound and getting control of the situation. He said that the offers of international aid were sincerely appreciated, but ultimately unnecessary.
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, John Babcock, hinted that other international offers had been made and reviewed over the past week.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale disagrees. Goodale, who said that the fire was expected to cover up to 3,000 square kilometers by the end of the day Monday (about 1,150 square miles) is “big, it’s out of control, and the end is not in sight.” However, he made no mention of international offers of assistance. He also indicated that he was not ready, at that time, to call in the Canadian military to assist in fighting the blaze, which has driven over 88,000 Canadians out of their homes, seeming to suggest that he didn’t feel the military would be of use.
“This is a beast of a fire and it needs the most professional fighters to contend with it.”
That said, the Royal Canadian Air Force has been involved in rescue efforts, one of its new CH-147F Chinook heavy-lift battlefield helicopters — able to carry nearly 37 metric tons — for the first time Sunday to ferry supplies to a remote First Nations community. It joins four CH-146 Griffons and one C-130J Hercules.
Major Gord Gushue, the deputy commander of the air task force supporting the operation, said that the Air Force couldn’t bring much more aid to the area, as the skies are already heavily congested with civilian fire-fighting efforts, as well as severe smoke conditions — enough so that at least one helicopter had to take off and fly out from Fort McMurray entirely on instruments.
“You can appreciate that the [civilian pilots] might be running a bucket ops where they scoop up water and move it around, going up and down quite a ways. So, they have to be very careful to make sure no one is flying underneath them — or overhead.”
Meanwhile, the Fort McMurray blaze, possibly the largest wildfire that Canada has ever seen, only continues to grow.
[Photo by Host photo agency / RIA Novosti via Getty Images]