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Recommendations address changing wildfire conditions

Independent review calls for enhanced prevention, protection and capacity.

Actions to reduce wildfire threats to communities and increase Alberta’s capacity to fight extreme wildfires are among 21 recommendations from an independent review of last year’s wildfire in the Lesser Slave Lake area. 

The Flat Top Complex group of three wildfires burned 22,000 hectares in the Lesser Slave Lake area in May 2011, including two that destroyed over 500 structures in the Town of Slave Lake and nearby communities.

The committee’s report describes the complex set of circumstances that contributed to the Flat Top Complex fires and evaluates Sustainable Resource Development’s response. Recommendations from the committee propose expanding Fire Weather Advisories to include potential wildfire behaviour, developing more specialized initial-response fire-fighting crews, and involving more agencies and jurisdictions in carrying out FireSmart risk reduction projects in communities.

“We hope that the committee’s advice serves the best interests of Albertans and contributes to improved wildfire management,” said committee Chair Bill Sweeney. “I am encouraged to see the government has recognized the need to improve its capability to protect the growing number of Albertans living in the province’s forested communities.”

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen promised a timely and thorough response to all of the report’s recommendations. Since the Slave Lake fires, government has already made substantial changes to the way Alberta prepares for and prevents wildfires, many of which mirror the report’s recommendations.

“The characteristics of this wildfire and the devastation it caused have never been seen before in Alberta’s modern history,” said Minister McQueen. “The people of Slave Lake and those who bravely, heroically and tirelessly fought the fires were deeply affected by what they faced and have had to overcome.”

“As a government committed to continuous learning, we must find ways to ensure that we and all Albertans move forward in a timely and responsible way to prevent others from having to experience that kind of devastation,” added McQueen.

In all, the recommendations are grouped under seven themes: wildfire prevention; preparedness and capacity; communications; organization and incident management; post-wildfire business resumption; policy and legislation; and research and development. The report is posted on the ESRD website at www.srd.alberta.ca.

As the wildfire threat in Alberta increases, people must be more aware of actions to prevent wildfires. The 2011 wildfire season saw 1,139 wildfires recorded in Alberta and 792,173 hectares of forest burned. The five-year average is 1,509 wildfires per season and 212,701 hectares burned.

Since the Flat Top Complex wildfires struck last year, the Government of Alberta has allocated $20 million to the Slave Lake region for FireSmart projects designed to lessen future wildfire risk and increase response capabilities. The province has also updated its strategy and priorities for community protection, reviewed internal wildfire management standard operating procedures and updated FireSmart Community Plans to meet extreme wildfire events.

The Government of Alberta started the 2012 wildfire season one month early, on March 1, to pre-position fire-fighters, aircraft and equipment in forest areas. The province also trained 100 new fire-fighters for duty this year.

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Backgrounder: Report Highlights, Flat Top Complex Wildfire Review

Media inquiries may be directed to:

Mark Cooper
Communications
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
mark.cooper@gov.ab.ca
780-427-6267

To call toll-free within Alberta dial 310-0000.

Backgrounder

Highlights of recommendations

The committee made 21 recommendations (summarized below) under seven themes. Fully stated recommendations are in the report at www.srd.alberta.ca

Wildfire Prevention

  1. significant enhancements to wildfire prevention
  2. aggressively address human-caused wildfires
  3. revise delivery for FireSmart program
  4. accelerate fuel management treatments near communities

Preparedness and Capacity

  1. advance start times for resources for early fire seasons
  2. expand attack firefighting crews, modelled after U.S. Hot Shot crews
  3. ensure sufficient fire behaviour specialist capabilities
  4. initiate resource requests in advance of potential demand
  5. work with other agencies on a Structure Protection Program

Communications

  1. enhance standards for operational communications
  2. issue fire weather advisories that include wildfire behaviour potential
  3. review dispatch and resource tracking systems
  4. fully support alternative communication technologies (e.g. texting)

Organization and Incident Management

  1. realign wildfire operations to direct live reporting
  2. restore regular internal assessments
  3. with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, align implementation of the Incident Command System and use of Incident Management Teams

Post-Wildfire Business Resumption

  1. review ministry business continuity plans

Policy and Legislation

  1. review wildfire policies and associated procedures
  2. review and update the Forest and Prairie Protection Act and regulations

Research and Development

  1. collaborate to support research, development and monitoring in key areas
  2. enhance the Presuppression Preparedness System with new information from 2011

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Media inquiries may be directed to:

Mark Cooper
Communications
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
mark.cooper@gov.ab.ca
780-427-6267

To call toll-free within Alberta dial 310-0000.

Flat Top Complex Wildfire Review Committee

TERMS OF REFERENCE

  • review Sustainable Resource Development’s wildfire management program and budget, relevant policies and legislation
  • assess information on the wildfire conditions and behaviour for the Flat Top Complex, and the encroachment of wildfire into nearby communities
  • conduct a comprehensive evaluation of Sustainable Resource Development’s wildfire operations for the Flat Top Complex
  • assess Sustainable Resource Development’s response to the Chisholm Fire Review Committee Final Report dated October 2001
  • make recommendations on how Sustainable Resource Development can improve its wildfire management program

MEMBERS

  • Chair Bill Sweeney, Senior Deputy Commissioner (retired) RCMP, executive positions with numerous provincial and national professional associations, committees and boards.
  • Bonita McFarlane, PhD, leader, Fire Social Science Research, National Resource Canada’s Canadian Forest Service (Edmonton); adjunct professor, University of Alberta; board member, Partners and Protection.
  • Peter Fuglem, M.Sc., Registered Professional Forester (B.C.), more than 30 years in wildfire management; former Director, Forest Protection Program (B.C.); part of 2003 Kelowna fire review, co-lead on Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy.
  • Tom Burton, Councillor, M.D. of Greenview, Registered Emergency Medical Responder, Chief, DeBolt Fire and Rescue; president, Partners in Protection; member, provincial Forest Protection Advisory Committee.

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Media inquiries may be directed to:

Mark Cooper
Communications
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
mark.cooper@gov.ab.ca
780-427-6267

To call toll-free within Alberta dial 310-0000.