Amid the devastating impacts from northern Alberta wildfires on local property, wildlife and residents’ mental health, Cst. Tyler MacPhail of the Airdrie RCMP found reasons for solidarity and hope as first responders pulled together to stand off the inferno with their full strength.
“It should put all Albertans at ease knowing there is a steadfast group of people fighting to work together to get stuff like this under control as best as possible,” said MacPhail, who volunteered to deploy north to assist with the response effort between May 14 and 19. “It was pretty interesting, and something I will always remember.”
MacPhail, who is an 18-year veteran with Alberta RCMP, previously deployed to assist with the Fort McMurray wildfires in 2016 and the High River floods in 2013. Assisting those efforts were both interesting and rewarding experiences, but MacPhail felt his experience this past month serving near Evansburg to help battle the northern wildfires was one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.
“It was an opportunity to work with agencies from the United States, Alberta Sustainable Resources, private fire service contractors, and the community was obviously very pro-police,” he said. “They also gave us the opportunity to do roving patrols. Often when you get deployed to these events, they use you in a static resource.”
MacPhail undertook various duties as part of his week-long deployment.
“They were looking for volunteers to step forward and go give some support to the fire departments and all the agencies that were working together to get this under control,” he explained. “I subsequently worked as an additional resource for evacuations, public safety, and securing premises to ensure nobody broke into personal property, residences, or businesses while the evacuation orders were in place.”
He also helped man check stops and road blocks when needed.
MacPhail said the days were long and exhausting, but he was happy to take some of the pressure off local RCMP detachments in Evansburg, Mayerthorpe and Drayton Valley. Unlike those officers who lived in the fire zone, MacPhail could solely focus on the job at hand without worrying personally about his property’s safety and his family’s health and wellbeing.
“I was with an officer from the Evansburg detachment where a lot of other officers were storing personal property at his home because it was away from the fire zone,” remembered MacPhail. “Basically, all the officers for Evansburg in that area were all staying together as one unit. It was just a very positive work environment, and I think post-pandemic, everyone can appreciate more how the community and services such as EMS, fire, police, and the government needs to pull together for incidents like this.”
While he experienced great camaraderie and took part in rewarding work, MacPhail said he never lost sight of the disaster that was unfolding all around him. He recalled an incident which illustrated the monumental community effort needed to counter such a powerful force of nature as the wildfires were.
While taking a break in the sweltering heat to talk with a volunteer crew that had driven all the way up from Colorado to help, MacPhail saw how quickly the situation could turn from one of relative calm to an all-out battle in the space of a few moments.
“There were helicopters out dropping water on the flare up zone,” said MacPhail. “We went over there to (Yellowhead County) to assist with traffic and possible evac of residents. I stood in a farmer’s field while I was talking to a firefighter who had driven up from Colorado, thanking him and his team for making a two-day drive to Canada to come help. It was insane. We were standing there and we (suddenly) had four fires all flare up, one after another.”
MacPhail said, sadly, such fires have become all too common in recent years.
“I have posted in Alberta my entire service, and I consider it home,” he explained. “And this is, unfortunately, becoming a common thing … You are seeing large swathes of land totally burned and gutted right down to embers.
“At the end of my days, this land will still be scarred from these fires. This will have a lasting impact on the people of Alberta and those communities.”