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'Needed the extra help:' Billings pilot recounts fighting Canadian wildfire in May

Billings Flight Service
Posted at 4:28 PM, Sep 06, 2023

The record-breaking Canadian wildfires have been roaring all summer, and one group of Billings pilots witnessed the devastation firsthand while helping contain the fire in May.

For many Billings residents, the wildfires in Canada are only known by the occasional smoke that drifts into town. That isn't the case for pilot Rob Sperry, who was sent north to help extinguish the flames earlier this year.

"There were fires everywhere," Sperry said. "The whole province of Alberta was basically on fire."

Canadian Fires

Sperry was part of a group sent by the Billings Flight Service, an independent company stationed in Billings that gets contracted to areas around the country during wildfire season. While Sperry is currently on standby in California, in the spring, he was battling the flames up north.

"They definitely needed the extra help, for sure," Sperry told MTN in an online video call. "It was that bad."

Sperry said that it is rare for American organizations to go to Canada for help and that it shows just how badly the fires spread throughout the country. He said typically, it's the Canadian firefighters coming to America to help put out wildfires.

"As far as I know, at least since I've worked in fires, I've never once went to Canada," Sperry said. "It's been a really bad year for them."

Billings Flight Service in Canada
Image taken by Rob Sperry, as a Billings Flight Service team sprays water onto the Canadian fires.

But Canada isn't the only area engulfed in flames right now. Bureau of Land Management public information officer Al Nash is currently stationed in Oregon and helping contain a fire located 30 miles southeast of Portland.

"This fire right now is the highest priority fire in the Pacific Northwest," Nash told MTN in a video interview on Tuesday. "Successfully containing a fire involves getting boots and equipment on the ground."

Nash said there are firefighters like Sperry stationed all over the country right now, as it is considered the peak of fire season.

Nash

"We're at a point in the fire season where just about every person who's available to do fire is on assignment somewhere," Nash said. "If they aren't in action, they are on standby."

Fortunately, the fire season has been mellow in the Billings area this year, but that isn't stopping Sperry and his team from being ready to step in wherever they are needed.

"We want to do what we can do," Sperry said. "We want to do it safely, do it efficiently, and make sure everyone gets home."