Independent reviews

We have released two reports commissioned on the Wood Buffalo wildfire. The reviews examined the government’s support for the prevention, preparedness, response, stabilization and recovery around the wildfire. The reviews were led by KPMG and MNP and are standard practice after major disasters.

Wildfire reviews

This review looked at Agriculture and Forestry's wildfire preparation and readiness up to May 31, 2016, and the ministry's steps taken to respond to the Horse River wildfire.

Progress report

This report was released 6 months after the wildfire. It outlines events leading up to the evacuation, actions taken during the wildfire, and work done to support the recovery of the region.

Psychosocial response and recovery evaluation

This report is an evaluation of the psychosocial supports offered during the response and recovery of the 2016 wildfire in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB). The report is based on lessons from previous disasters locally, nationally, and internationally, as well as the experience and knowledge of those involved in psychosocial response and recovery, to assess efforts in the RMWB psychosocial response and recovery.

Environmental monitoring in Fort McMurray

We've partnered with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) to monitor air, ash, soil quality in the Fort McMurray region. Initial results were posted online during the evacuation and the final report was release in May 2018.

Q&A

Below are answers to some of the questions we’ve received prior to the release of the independent reports in 2017.

Release of reports

Q. Was there a delay in releasing these reports?

A. The reports were released much faster than similar reports in years past.

These are reports from independent experts that make recommendations; once we received them we had to determine if and how we will achieve the recommendations. The final MNP report was received on March 22 and the final KMPG report was received on May 20.

These reports and responses have been published within 13 months of the fire – far more efficiently than the 2 years for post-incident assessments following the 2013 southern Alberta floods and the 2011 Slave Lake fire.


Communication coordination

Q. News media say the reports conclude there was a breakdown between provincial and Wood Buffalo incident commands. Was there?

A. People performed well in an unprecedented event, but there are areas for improvement.

The reports make it clear that there are areas for improvement in how the province assists a local response – and we will implement actions that achieve those improvements.

The Government of Alberta bears responsibility for providing the support that local responders need. It is important to remember that in Alberta, “the local authority shall, at all times, be in charge of the direction and control of the local response.”

This was an unprecedented event and we’re going to use the recommendations to improve future responses and communications in disasters moving forward.


Q. There are reports that the fire breached the city and the commander learned from social media. Is that a breakdown in communications?

A. Both reports point to constant contact between the municipality, forestry division and the Provincial Operations Centre.

This report includes interviews with hundreds of people, all of whom saw the incident unfold from singular perspectives.


Q. Could there have been a better, more unified command between the province and the RMWB?

A. Yes

There was a unified command in this event at the Regional Emergency Operations Centre but implementation was not ideal and there were challenges in sharing information.

These problems were because systems were not deployed or didn’t exist, not because people didn’t try. Much of our response to the reports is about how we will fix that.


Q. When will a radio system be in place so all first responders can talk to each other?

A. A system has been in place since 2016 and municipalities are migrating to it.

The government has invested $438 million in such a system since 2008 and the infrastructure has been finished since 2016; 98 municipalities are in the process of adopting it; 22 are fully implemented.

Fort McMurray signed an agreement to migrate in May 2017 and they should be complete by the end of 2017.


Evacuation

Q. There are reports that there was a delay in evacuation. Why wasn’t the city evacuated sooner?

A. It is not evident that a change in process would have resulted in an earlier evacuation.

As per normal operating procedures during a state of local emergency the power to evacuate is in the hands of the municipality.

However, it is not evident that had the decision been with the provincial government, evacuation would have happened sooner. There was constant communication between the provincial firefighters and the regional operations centre.

The Municipality began evacuations on May 1 and May 2 and a mandatory evacuation notice was issued on May 3.


Wildfire resources

Q. What about questions such as the placement of water tankers and the attack plans for the fire itself?

A. Resources are spread across the province to protect all Albertans, and moved when events erupt.

There are always lessons to be learned from events large and small, from great outcomes, and from difficult ones.

Our first responders have to place resources across Alberta to protect all of Alberta and move them when events erupt; resources will always have to be moved, attacks plans will always have to be executed and adjusted. That is the nature of firefighting.

News

Province acting on wildfire report recommendations (June 8, 2017)