Our focus is ensuring the safety of Albertans and their communities, and we hold ourselves to the highest standard when it comes to training and expertise.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has presented additional challenges, but thanks to several new initiatives, we are ready to face this wildfire season head on.
Albertans have shown they’re willing to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and now, at this critical time, we’re asking them to do their part in preventing human-caused wildfires.
Last year, 71% of wildfires were human caused, and entirely preventable.
To reduce risk, we introduced an early fire ban in the Forest Protection Area, as well as in Alberta Parks, to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires and help firefighters focus on existing wildfires. We are also phasing-in OHV restrictions to address the wildfire risk area-by-area, allowing Albertans the freedom to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. We will re-evaluate daily.
We are also doubling the fines for disobeying a fire ban or OHV restriction to further reduce the number of human-caused wildfires.
In addition to these deterrents, and in response to COVID-19, our government is stepping up by investing $5 million to create another 200 high-quality firefighting jobs to assist with the provincial wildfire suppression this season.
It is crucial that wildfire camps remain safe for wildland firefighters, which is why we will be closely following the direction of our province’s Chief Medical Officer.
All wildland firefighters will complete a pre-screening health survey on a regular basis to reduce risk.
Other pro-active amendments we’ve made include:
- Increasing hand wash stations at all wildfire facilities.
- Increasing sanitation of all surfaces in washrooms and common areas.
- Where possible, limiting the number of people in one location. (for example, outdoor dining.)
- Removing buffet style meals. Food will instead be plated and served, or bagged.
- Ensuring staff quarters are single room occupancy in permanent camps or single occupancy tents.
- Monitoring people and immediately isolating those suspected of infection.
- Increasing the use of contracted camps and hotels to supplement our operations.
- Ensuring appropriate physical distancing measures where possible.
- When traveling in vehicles and helicopters, where physical distancing is not an option, then additional precautionary measures will be taken, including ensuring all parties wear appropriate facial covering/ non-medical masks.
These are extraordinary circumstances, and as you can see, our government is doing everything possible to slow the spread of the pandemic and protect Albertans by continuing to implement aggressive public health measures provincewide.
Our wildfire experts have meticulously planned for different contingency scenarios so we now have clear plans in place if we need to react to changes in available resources.
Alberta’s wildfire season begins on March 1st, one month earlier than many other jurisdictions. This ensures our firefighters are trained earlier and prepositioned throughout the province sooner, to be better prepared to fight wildfires.
From Helitack to Firetack to Unit crews, 864 seasonal firefighters will be joining our year-round staff in protecting Alberta during the 2020 fire season. These wildland firefighters will be rapidly deployed in many different ways, including by helicopter, to make sure they are where they’re needed, when they’re needed.
This year we’re focusing our staffing on high and extreme risk areas, embracing technologies that will help us monitor and detect wildfires, and enhancing public reporting methods.
Our staff use world-class technology like satellite and infrared analysis, air patrols, remote cameras and tips coming straight from Albertans through Report a wildfire at 310-FIRE to limit the size of new wildfires, and their ability to spread.
We also proudly staff one hundred wildfire lookouts – far more than any other Canadian jurisdiction – providing early detection and accurate reporting of potential forest fire starts. The Northwest Territories has four, the Yukon has seven, B.C. has two and the other jurisdictions don’t have any wildfire lookouts at all.
When a wildfire is detected, we use a combination of ground and aerial firefighting resources for an initial attack.
Our staff are so effective that, in 2019, we were 95% successful in containing all wildfires by 10 a.m. the day after they were detected.
Alberta administers the Alberta Wildfire Management Certification/Qualification program. Thanks to this program, our staff are certified to or above the Canadian national standard, which is one of the best in the world.
Wildfire conditions can change in an instant.
To stay on top of our game, we’re continually learning and improving our wildfire management practices.
Our experts conduct year-round research to find more efficient and effective methods of fighting fires and better strategies for managing wildfires. For example at our Pelican Mountain Research Site, we collaborate with our research partners to conduct controlled burning to study fire behaviour, the effectiveness of FireSmart treatments and other methods of wildfire mitigation.
Wildfire prevention is a responsibility we all share, which is why we’re heavily investing in our FireSmart initiatives.
In response to COVID-19, our government will increase FireSmart grants up to $20 million for municipalities. These investments will be implemented this year in communities.
This is part of government's ongoing commitment to Albertans as part of the COVID-19 response.
This will enable us to work more strategically with community members, community leaders, forest companies and industry to mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires affected Albertans and their communities.
Municipalities will be able to access any new funding through the established application process and program through the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta (FRIAA) website. Both AF and FRIAA will reach out to ensure municipal leaders are aware.
The funding will be allocated through grant agreements for FireSmart activities for at-risk communities.
Our vision for FireSmart will encourage municipalities to harvest the trees near vulnerable communities to manage the fuels on those landscapes, and help reduce hazards and risks in the case of a wildfire.
We are piloting the idea with the Municipal District of Opportunity. Our plans are to roll this out in more communities this year. In addition to making these communities safer, the benefits will be two-fold: the first is the obvious economic benefit of harvesting the timber, and the second is that cleared land could be used for agriculture, recreation, or other options to benefit residents.
Alberta Wildfire is proud of the work we do to prevent, manage and suppress wildfires in Alberta.
While it can be difficult to measure the number of wildfires that didn’t happen because of proper prevention and mitigation efforts, the millions of people who live, work and recreate in Alberta’s forest areas know its worth.
Devin Dreeshen served as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry from April 30, 2019 to November 5, 2021.