July 7, 2023

56 Days of Turmoil in our Region

A statement from Mayor Wade Williams on behalf of Yellowhead County Council reflecting on the last two months of multiple disasters that took place across our region and impacted thousands of Yellowhead County residents.

With what I hope is the worst part of our disasters behind us, I wish to reflect on where we are at now and how proud I am of our region and its response to multiple disasters at the same time and for extended periods of time.

It seems somewhat surreal to know that we opened up 11 reception centres in the past 56 days, and had help from across the world, across the country, across the province, from our municipal partners, far and wide, and from residents of Alberta as a whole.  For this, we thank you.  We cannot begin to list off the hundreds of people who came to our help, but we do know that we would not be where we are at without you.  For all of you, Thank you from Yellowhead County. 

To the residents of Yellowhead County.  Your resilience, courage, passion and determination have inspired me during this crisis, and I thank you for that.  Even in the face of fires, floods, and snowstorms, you have persevered, and I am so very proud to be part of this community.  We will continue to work with our residents in the coming months as we rebuild, and I know that our community will be stronger than what it was 2 months ago.

With that said, I wish to focus my next comments on Yellowhead County Staff, Fire Crews and Volunteer Fire Fighters. 

Yellowhead County staff have worked tirelessly for extended long shifts and filled in positions wherever necessary.  Many times this included working nightshifts on short notice or extended hours to ensure we had the best approach to the disasters.  There is not one staff member that hasn’t been affected by this disaster, and each and every one of them has made me proud to see how they have done whatever was needed of them.

Our fire services have 8 full-time firefighters, 5 office/management staff and over 90 volunteer firefighters.  That is not a lot of people to cover 22,000 km2 but they make us proud every day and have excelled in their service to our community over the past 8 weeks.  The initial fires that hit us hit us so fast and with such ferocity that forestry crews nor our resources were able to stop them.  Winds quickly fanned the fires to have 200kms of fire front which quickly inundated our region and our firefighters’ efforts.  We were then hit with new fires in the Shiningbank Area and a fire from Parkland County which jumped the river with 60km/ hour wind gusts.  There is no possible way to have enough crews to be at all of these places at once, nor to stop mother nature with such strong winds. 

Since this wasn’t enough for mother nature, we then had Fire 31, which took a run from the Brazeau Dam area to points just close to our residents in an area stretching from Nojack to Marlboro.  These same firefighters continued to be on scene for all of these fires, (along with hundreds of firefighters from Alberta Forestry as well as partners) and continued to work long hours to keep our community safe on a daily basis.

What we don’t see through all of this is:

  • the fire north of Evansburg, which would have given us another out-of-control fire to deal with, but was put out by our fire crews, even while fighting strong winds and after it jumped RR 75
  • the volunteer firefighters who gave up his/her day job or closed their business so they could help our community.
  • the firefighter who has given up 2 months of their personal lives, only to be admonished by those who feel they should have done more.
  • the homes that were saved because municipally installed sprinkler systems were able to keep the fire at bay.
  • the firefighter’s spouse who was spit on by a disgruntled person without knowledge of what really transpired.
  • the firefighter whose property was severely comprised by fire but continued to fight the fires in the community.
  • Yellowhead County having hired its own helicopter to fight fire for 5 days in the Shiningbank Fire when Provincial resources were busy in other parts of Alberta.
  • the resident who was mad at the fire fighting efforts one day when they lost their home but hugged a firefighter the next day as they realized just how much effort these human beings have put into saving our community.

In the end, we are only human, and I applaud our staff and first responders for the extraordinary effort they have put in over the past 2 months to keep our community safe.  I have received numerous comments from our region thanking our municipal resources and firefighters and have committed to acknowledging them now in this public forum and on behalf of Yellowhead County residents.  You are such great people and our municipality and community commend you for your efforts.

The past 8 weeks have been a disaster for our Region, similar to other parts of Alberta, and our fire crews acted valiantly to keep our community safe.  There is no possible way that these fires could have been stopped sooner, but I do know that things would have been a lot worse without the extraordinary efforts of our staff and fire crews.

After 2 months of crisis with more than 350,000 hectares burned, massive flooding, to heavy snowfalls, we are proud that not a single human life was lost.  This is a testament to our residents, outside help from all parts, and our county staff and first responders.

I take my hat off to each and every one of you. Thank you all so very much for all you do. Yellowhead County is a very beautiful place to live, raise our families and enjoy our lifestyles knowing you are all there protecting us.

I thank you for listening and trust that you will follow me in showing my appreciation to those who came to help us, our staff and our first responders as they have done a fabulous job.