Canadian military deployed to help fight Alberta wildfires

FILE PHOTO: A smoke column rises from wildfire WWF023 near Fox Creek

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada brought in the military to help firefighting and recovery efforts in Alberta on Thursday after wildfires forced thousands to evacuate homes and prompted several oil and gas producers to shut operations in Canada's main crude-producing province.

The armed forces were deployed after Ottawa approved Alberta's request for federal support to tackle the more-than 100 wildfires that ignited across the western Canadian province in the last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

The widespread blazes have marked an intense start to wildfire season in Alberta and put Premier Danielle Smith's disaster management skills - as well as her party's policies - under the microscope ahead of a provincial election on May 29.

A couple of days of cooler weather gave firefighters some reprieve and allowed some oil and gas companies to restart shuttered production on Wednesday, though forecasts show temperatures surging higher over the weekend.

"I know there have been some lower temperatures this week and even some rain in a few areas. And though this is always good news, people shouldn’t take this as permission to let their guard down," Alberta's Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis told a briefing Thursday.

It is "absolutely not a time to be complacent," said Christie Tucker, information unit manager with Alberta Wildfire.

“A few scattered showers is not going to reduce the number of wildfires significantly in the province. You’re looking at months as far as extinguishing these wildfires.”

Producers had shut in at least 319,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), or 3.7% of the country's production, earlier this week and more than 30,000 people were forced to flee their homes. As of Thursday afternoon the province estimated there were 16,470 evacuees.

The military is going to "provide firefighting support and airlift resources, assist with the evacuation of isolated communities, and help keep people safe," Trudeau said on Twitter.

Around 200 troops have been deployed around the province, Tucker said, and another 100 would be deployed over the weekend.

The troops will establish bases of operations, before moving to the Grande Prairie, Fox Creek and Drayton Valley areas of the province over the next few days, Alberta's provincial government said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto, editing by Deepa Babington)