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After reviewing the report, government will take action on all 15 recommendations.
The review covered Alberta Wildfire preparedness and responsiveness to those wildfires and the government’s wildfire management program more generally. It also highlighted multiple examples of government success in wildfire management, such as initial attack, annual emergency management exercises and wildfire prevention.
“Alberta Wildfire is a world-class organization that protects Alberta families here and families around the world from wildfire. Constant, never-ending improvement is critical for emergency response organizations. This independent review will ensure our brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our communities, can better coordinate, communicate and keep themselves safe.”
“We appreciate the way everyone worked together and shared information to protect the residents of High Level. It is unfortunate there was structural damage in the community of Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement, but I am thankful no lives were lost. The safety of all our communities is our top priority and together we were successful in ensuring that, at the end of the day, everyone stayed safe.”
To ensure continued improvement, recommendations focus on actions to:
- Improve key areas of Alberta’s prevention programming, including outreach and communications, compliance and enforcement, and FireSmart activities.
- Better prepare for current and forecasted wildfire hazards based on weather, ignition potential and values at risk.
- Enhance the prioritization of wildfire response resources.
- Modernize software systems used in wildfire management.
- Minimize the costs associated with wildfire response and preparedness.
- Enhance risk management and strategic response.
Putting recommendations into action
Alberta is already taking action on the recommendations in preparation for the 2021 wildfire season. Some initiatives are expected to be completed by next spring, while others will take several years.
For example, the province is accelerating the implementation of Wildfire Management Plans in the province. Alberta Wildfire has also made recent improvements to the Wildfire Status Map. Incorporating stakeholder feedback, the updated map provides Albertans with real-time details about wildfire activity in the province.
Key to Alberta’s wildfire management strategy going forward will be engaging in a cost-benefit analysis of program spending, with a focus on major suppression costs such as helicopter and heavy equipment rates. This review will ensure more efficient program spending that maintains the high standards of Alberta Wildfire’s management program.
2020 wildfire season
The 2020 wildfire season officially ended on Oct. 31, and Alberta experienced a relatively quiet season thanks to the diligence of Albertans, effective department preparations, and substantial precipitation in many areas of the province.
Following the direction of the chief medical officer, Alberta Wildfire quickly adapted to the demands of fighting wildfires during a pandemic, making important and necessary changes to daily routines to keep all involved safe.
Alberta hired an additional 200 wildfire firefighters, bringing the total to 864, which is more personnel prior to a wildfire season than ever before in Alberta’s history.
In total, 703 wildfires burned 3,265 hectares (8,068 acres) this season, 0.8 per cent of total area burned compared with the five-year average.
This season’s largest fire, the Devil’s Head wildfire located north of Canmore, is classified as being held. The wildfire was started by an abandoned campfire and investigators would like to speak with people who were in the area between Aug. 30 and Sept. 4 and who may have information. The toll-free tip line number is 833-999-3473.
Alberta was able to support the broader wildfire community this year by sending 60 firefighters and support staff to Quebec and 44 staff to Oregon to assist in their wildfire operations.
Though the legislated wildfire season is over, Albertans should continue to use caution when doing any fall and winter burning.
- The 2019 fire season was one of the worst on record in terms of hectares burned (more than 880,000 hectares or about 2.2 million acres) – second only to 1981.
- Seventy-one per cent of the wildfires were human-caused.
- The Chuckegg Creek, Battle complex and McMillan complex wildfires burned concurrently and accounted for 75 per cent of the total area burned in 2019.
- The department imported a record number of firefighting resources, including 3,000 firefighting personnel.
- About 15,000 people were evacuated.
- The Wildfire Management Branch tendered a request for proposal for a third-party review. MNP LLP was the successful proponent.
- Independent wildfire reviews are common after an extraordinary wildfire season, such as the 2016 Horse River wildfire, the 2015 wildfire season and the 2011 Flat Top complex wildfire.
- In Spring 2020, Alberta’s government hired an additional 200 firefighters, implemented fire ban and OHV restrictions, doubled fines for non-compliance, and increased FireSmart funding to ensure the province could effectively focus resources where they were needed most.