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Drones tackle Okanagan blaze as cool weather helps bring B.C. wildfires under control

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PENTICTON — Drones are helping map hot spots in a wildfire burning in British Columbia’s Okanagan region as cooler conditions helped firefighters elsewhere in the province bring blazes under control.

Crews were making progress on several wildfires Wednesday, including a blaze near Lytton that broke out nearly a month ago and destroyed several properties.

But BC Wildfire Service information officer Mikhail Elsay told a news conference that crews were still having a difficult fight with the 67-square-kilometre fire southwest of Penticton in the Okanagan.

“While we have been making good progress, this fire is still uncontained, and out of control at this time, especially on the western flanks.”

Elsay said new drone technology is being used to scan the fire’s edges to ensure flames have been put out. The drone was operated overnight and helped crews understand what hot spots should be targeted, he said.

“This thermal scan allows us to really nail down the final spots, especially the tricky, rocky, deep burning root systems. These drones are very sensitive, they can pick up even very small amounts of heat. So we’ll be able to really confirm the work that we’re doing out there.”

The area where crews have made progress means that residents in about four dozen homes will be allowed to return.

However, more than 400 other homes, including the entire community of Olalla, remain under evacuation order.

Another 900 properties in the area are under an evacuation alert, which means residents have to be ready to leave on short notice.

Erick Thompson, information officer for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, said one uninhabited outbuilding was destroyed in the fire.

Highway 3A, which cuts through the valley where crews have been trying to control the wildfire, remains closed.

Elsay said firefighters are watching the weather, which shows a lightning storm for the Penticton area beginning Wednesday afternoon. This could bring with it “erratic winds” and some rain, he added.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Atlantic Canada begins assessing, cleaning up damage from Fiona – CBC.ca

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People across Atlantic Canada are beginning to assess the damage and clean up after post-tropical storm Fiona swept through the region Saturday.

As of 9 a.m., remnants of Fiona are over southeastern Labrador and have merged with a trough — a long region of low atmospheric pressure.

Fiona spent early Sunday morning moving inland in southeastern Quebec as a post-tropical storm, according to Environment Canada. It’s expected to dissipate over the Labrador Sea.

The agency said winds were at 80 km/h and all wind warnings associated with the storm have ended.

In Newfoundland, some homes were washed away or flattened, others were flooded, roads were washed out and people were evacuated. The damage was most striking in Port aux Basques, where boulders and debris were scattered across the community.

On Sunday morning, CBC meteorologist Ashley Brauweiler said the bulk of the damage in Port aux Basques was caused by storm surge.

The Salvation Army has co-ordinated an emergency shelter for people displaced from their homes in the Port aux Basques area at the local school.

In Nova Scotia, hundreds of thousands of customers were without power on Sunday, and the Canadian Armed Forces has been called in to help restore electricity.

Nova Scotia Power president Peter Gregg said in a statement Sunday that the utility knows “there will be customers who face outages for multiple days” given the damage created by the storm.

Two municipalities in Cape Breton declared a state of emergency. The fastest winds clocked in at 171 km/h in Arisaig, just north of Antigonish.

The devastation of a day: Scenes of Fiona’s damage across Atlantic Canada

6 hours ago

Duration 3:05

Within hours, post-tropical storm Fiona caused destruction and upheaval in all four Atlantic provinces, as well as in eastern Quebec. See some of the impact as gathered by CBC News crews.

Ottawa has also approved Nova Scotia’s request for funding for disaster assistance to help municipalities repair damaged infrastructure, and to assist individuals and small businesses pay for uninsured losses

On Prince Edward Island, winds hit 150 km/h and almost 100 millimetres of rain fell, homes and businesses were damaged and flooded, and at one point about 95 per cent of Maritime Electric customers had lost electricity.

Premier Dennis King said Sunday that his province’s road to recovery “will be weeks or longer” since the damage may have been “the worst we’ve ever seen” from a tropical storm. 

Residents in Charlottetown are now being asked to stay off the roads and shelter in place after the storm rushed over the Island. 

In New Brunswick, roads were flooded, a bridge was destroyed and tens of thousands were without electricity. Residents there are also being asked to stay away from dangerous, storm-ravaged areas.

Bill Hogan, the province’s public safety minister, said it will take time to fully calculate the damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona, but he expects help will be made available to affected residents.

Power outages are still widespread on Sunday morning, with more than 365,000 customers in the dark across the four Atlantic provinces, including more than 260,000 in Nova Scotia.

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Officials across Eastern Canada set to begin assessing full scope of storm damage

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After hammering Atlantic Canada, post-tropical storm Fiona has moved inland in southeastern Quebec, with Environment Canada saying the storm will continue to weaken as it tracks across southeastern Labrador and over the Labrador Sea.

As of 6 a.m. local time, nearly 267,000 Nova Scotia Power customers were still affected by outages, 82,414 Maritime Electric customers remained in the dark and more than 20,600 homes and businesses in New Brunswick were without power, with some provincial utility companies warning it could be days before the lights are back on for everyone.

Newfoundland Power reported outages affecting more than 3,600 customers, as high-end tropical storm force winds knocked down trees and power lines, although Environment Canada said winds would diminish in the morning.

In an early Sunday morning update, Environment Canada said strong winds continued over the northern Newfoundland, southeastern Labrador and parts of southeastern Quebec.

A wind warning remained in effect for the western part of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, while storm warnings are in place for parts of the Northeast Gulf and Strait of Belle Isle marine areas.

As Fiona continued to weaken, government officials across Eastern Canada prepared to survey the full scope of the damage left behind.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, along with several members of his cabinet, were scheduled to tour some of the hardest hit areas of Cape Breton by helicopter Sunday morning.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who cancelled his planned visit to Japan for the state funeral of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, said he will visit as soon as possible, while noting he doesn’t want to displace any emergency teams who are focused on important work on the ground.

Defence Minister Anita Anand said Saturday members of the Canadian Armed Forces had begun preparing to respond before receiving the request for assistance from Nova Scotia, and troops will be deployed to other provinces that ask for help.

No details were provided on the number of troops being deployed, but Anand said reconnaissance was underway to ensure they go where and when they are needed most.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Military sounding alarm over recruiting problems as Canadians steer clear

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is sounding the alarm over a severe shortage of recruits to fill thousands of vacant positions, with the shortfall so bad that senior officers are now calling it a crisis.

On a cool Tuesday afternoon, Robert Romero walks out of the Canadian Armed Forces’ recruiting office in downtown Ottawa with an envelope full of papers in his hands.

Originally from the Philippines, Romero does not have any direct experience with Canada’s military; his interest is largely derived from a sense of adventure and some of what he saw about soldiers in movies as a kid.

“I idolized them,” he says. “I got hooked. So then I started researching about it and I got more into it.”

Romero is one of 11 people who have just written an aptitude test to identify which military occupations prospective recruits are qualified to fill. He pulls his results from the envelope: intelligence officer, meteorological technician and cook.

He will now talk it over with his parents to decide which career interests him, whether he wants to write the test again or abandon the whole exercise.

Canada’s military is supposed to be in a period of growth as new demands increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and aviators. The Liberal government in 2017 laid out a plan to add thousands of full and part-time positions.

While the plan came after years of troop shortages, there were signs the military was turning a corner as recruitment began to outpace departures.

“We were just starting to gain momentum when the pandemic hit,” says Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who is responsible for overseeing military recruitment and training.

Recruitment cratered during the first year of COVID-19 as the military shuttered recruiting and training centres. The result: only 2,000 people were enrolled in 2020-21 — less than half of what was needed.

Nearly 4,800 recruits were enrolled the following fiscal year as lockdowns and restrictions were eased.

But Brodie says the military is getting about half the number of applicants it needs per month to meet the goal of adding 5,900 members this year.

The shortfall is expected to exacerbate the current personnel shortage, with about one in 10 of the military’s 100,000 positions unfilled.

“We are without a doubt in an applicant crisis right now,” Brodie says.

Many industries are facing labour challenges, and Statistics Canada reported record job vacancies in June. But the pandemic and labour shortage have coincided with what Brodie describes as a “cultural reckoning” for the military.

That has been marked by allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military’s makeup and Canadian society as a whole, leading to a push for greater diversity in the ranks.

Those efforts include targeted recruiting of under-represented groups, including women and Indigenous people, and broader moves to create a more inclusive workplace by easing dress rules, which Brodie suggests are bearing fruit.

Still, fewer Canadians are opting for a military career and it is not fully clear why.

“I don’t think we’ve got a good answer anywhere. I think there are so many factors and components and dimensions of the why,” Brodie says.

The Defence Department is trying to better understand the problem, she added. It is also looking at possible solutions such as financial incentives, ways to improve work-life balance, and addressing public perceptions of the military.

Brodie was unable to say whether the push for diversity is hurting more than helping, at least in terms of sheer numbers, by turning off the military’s traditional recruiting pool: young, white men.

“We can’t measure the impact of that right now. It’s too early,” she said. “But to be very, very clear … we want suitable candidates, and suitable candidates are those that first and foremost reflect the values of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The impact of not having enough new recruits is both short- and long-term, putting additional pressure on current members and meaning there are fewer people who can rise through the ranks and fill leadership roles later.

The shortfall isn’t uniform across the military. Certain occupations have more than enough applicants. But some are facing such severe shortages that signing bonuses of up to $20,000 are being offered in 25 of the military’s approximately 100 trades, including cook, meteorological technician and many navy jobs.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Clark is senior recruiter in Ottawa. In recent weeks, his staff have been at different events such as the Gatineau Airshow and a comic book convention to make their pitch.

“We’re selling the benefits of being in the Canadian Armed Forces,” he says. “The pension, the medical, the dental, the education piece, continuing education, as well as a pretty interesting career where you get to travel around the world, potentially, and get paid to do it.”

Recruiters are given targets to meet, with spots divvied up by trade, as well as minimum targets for female recruits and maximums for men. There is also a high-level push for what the military still refers to as “visible minorities” and Indigenous people.

“Diversity is what we’re after,” Clark says.

Ottawa is unusual in that it is close to meeting its recruiting targets, which Clark attributes to the large number of military families in the capital. But many other places are not, including traditional military communities.

“We’re really seeing even places like Kingston that used to have a huge population of applicants, we’re seeing the well drying out,” says Maj. Simon Rocheleau, who is responsible for managing recruiting efforts across northern and eastern Ontario.

Rocheleau has a number of theories to explain the situation, including the state of the economy, the lack of a major mission like Afghanistan to drive awareness, and concerns about sexual misconduct.

Outside the Ottawa recruiting centre, Jeremy Langlois has just finished the aptitude test. The 21-year-old chef wants to fly jets, but didn’t score high enough. He will take the test again in 30 days in the hopes of qualifying.

“If that doesn’t work out, well, then I’ll have to re-evaluate and think about stuff,” he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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