William Alexander Garvie Hilts

William Alexander Garvie Hilts

Cranbrook pilot identified

38-year-old William Alexander Garvie Hilts died Friday in a plane crash while fighting fires near Cold Lake, Alberta

  • May. 26, 2015 5:00 a.m.

Canadian Press

A small airplane used for fire suppression crashed while fighting a wildfire near Cold Lake, Alberta, on Friday, killing a civilian pilot. Throughout the weekend, weather hampered efforts to get to the site, but the body of 38-year-old William Alexander Garvie Hilts of Cranbrook, B.C. was recovered Monday.

Earlier, Jeff Barry of Conair Aerial Firefighting said Hilts was in his fourth firefighting season with the company.

The blaze near Cold Lake caused Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. to pull about 2,000 workers and shut down their oilsands operations Saturday. The closures have resulted in lost production of about 233,000 barrels of oil a day – roughly a 10 per cent loss of the province’s daily production of oilsands crude.

And wildfires have forced about 2,000 people from their homes in northern Alberta.

Cyndi Taron, director of emergency management with the Municipal District of Opportunity, said a state of emergency was put in place Sunday night for the area, 330 kilometres north of Edmonton.

About 1,000 residents of the hamlet of Wabasca and another 1,000 people from the surrounding Bigstone Cree Nation checked into reception centres in Calling Lake and Athabasca, she said. Others were staying with friends or gone elsewhere with campers and tents.

Mounties were going door-to-door in the communities and talked with some people who didn’t want to leave, she added.

“It’s mandatory but the RCMP do not have the authority to start dragging people out of their homes at this point,” Taron said Monday.

The out-of-control blaze first prompted an order to leave on Saturday, but residents were allowed to return that evening after it was contained. They were forced out again Sunday afternoon when wind pushed the flames past a fireguard.

“It just goes to show you how warm and dry it is out there,” said wildfire information officer Geoffrey Driscoll.