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Flathead Hotshots travel to Canada to fight wildfires

KALISPELL – The Flathead Hotshots leave on Tuesday to fight more than 700,000 acres of Canadian wildfire.

According to CNN, wildfires in Alberta, Canada have burned more than 700,000 acres of land and have forced 11,000 people to evacuate, according to the province’s government.

The government of Alberta said that at least two out-of-control wildfires are burning in the area — the Chuckegg Creek Wildfire and the Jackpot Creek Wildfire.

The Chuckegg Creek Wildfire, burning in Mackenzie County just two miles south of the town of High Level, has burned nearly 692,000 acres, while the Jackpot Creek Wildfire, near Steen River, has burned more than 61,000 acres, government officials said.

The fires started in late May and have continued to grow because of dry conditions in the area.

MTN spoke with Steve Houtz who tells us what the Flathead Hotshots are preparing for when they reach Canada.

“We’ve heard it’s very hot and dry up there right now. Because we’re further north, there are only about four hours of the dark at night so the longer daylight hours can increase fire activity,” explains Houtz.

Houtz tells MTN he’s wanted to be a part of this hotshot team every since he was a little kid.

“When I was about 10 years old, my dad took me up in the North Fork, there were fires there in 2001 and I saw this crew working on that fire and it’s something that it’s always been in the back of my mind that I’ve wanted to get a shot at working on a hard-hitting crew like this,” Houtz says.

This is Hannah Perno’s first year with the Flathead Hotshots. Perno originally comes from the New York state area. Before being on the Flathead Hotshots, Perno worked with the Hungry Horse Ranger District’s fire program. Perno tells MTN how the Flathead Hotshots will work with Canada’s fire response.

“In tandem with an engine, you know, an engine supplying water and a hotshot crew making fire line,” explains Perno.

Veteran Hotshot Superintendent Shawn Borgen says in preparation, each member packs enough food and water for 24 hours. He tells MTN that hotshot crews can spend anywhere from fourteen to 18 days assisting in fire mitigation. Borgen has spent over 20 years of putting his life in danger with his crew he says, this team is like a family.

“The family and camaraderie that is forged on a hotshot crew is that upon any other unit in our industry. We spend every waking minute together engaged, looking out for each other and watching out for each other’s safety.”

Heading to another country, Ryan Cole tells MTN it’s always nice to know the community is cheering them on.

“It feels good traveling around and knowing we have the support of the local community,” says Cole.

RELATED: Montana hotshot crews will help fight Canadian wildfires

Reporting by Maren Siu for MTN News

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