Firefighters work amid the ruin left behind by a major wildfire south of Edson on May 5, 2023. | Alberta Wildfire Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association says there is no time like the present for the Alberta government to involve them in its province-wide planning for the upcoming wildfire season.

“With the current dry winter Alberta is experiencing, the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) expresses significant concern regarding the potential for a wildfire season mirroring last year’s devastating events,” began the organization’s open letter to all members of the Government of Alberta dated Jan. 31.

The letter, signed by Fire Chief and ACFA President Randy Schroeder, reviews how the AFCA has met with key ministries presenting specific requests for additional equipment and resources and increased training capacity in light of last year’s devastating wildfire season. 

Alberta faced an unprecedented wildfire season in 2023 as more than 2.5 million hectares of land burned. 

“These wildfires are occurring with greater frequency, intensity, and duration across more expansive areas than in the past,” the letter stated.

“In light of these concerns and environmental projection models the AFCA is urgently calling for disclosure of the provinces’ wildfire preparedness strategy.”

The organization also requested the establishment of a Provincial Fire Services Advisory Committee to have a collective of the most experienced voices at the table when developing a dedicated provincial strategy for better co-ordination and improved risk mitigation associated with wildfire seasons.

But what is the plan? The AFCA said it hasn’t been offered a seat at that table.

The letter noted that there was a real and growing concern among Alberta’s fire chiefs over the lack of communication of what the plan is, how funds will be allocated and how firefighters and equipment will be recruited and deployed.

“The AFCA emphasized the urgency of addressing these concerns before the onset of the wildfire season. It is imperative to have a clear, well-resourced, and collaborative strategy that involves all levels of government to effectively manage and mitigate the risks of wildfires in Alberta.”

Edson itself was evacuated twice and incurred initial expenses of approximately $1.3 million due to the wildfires. 

The town 164 kilometres east of Jasper was one of the worst hit zones during Alberta’s 2023 wildfire season. Between Jan. 1 and July 21, more than 70 wildfires burned approximately 235,000 hectares in the Edson Forest Area. The Pembina Wildfire Complex itself was more than 200,000 hectares in size.

Edson’s Fire Chief Brad Milton supported the AFCA letter and echoed its concerns. Last year’s wildfire season is one thing; this year’s lack of moisture is another entirely.

There is a lot of anxiousness and worry in the community, Milton said in a statement emailed to the Fitzhugh, hoping that the provincial government will take the matter seriously. 

“The Town of Edson worked well with all of our partners throughout the wildfire season, including our neighbouring municipalities and the Provincial Government Agencies,” he wrote.

“They were there to support us when we were fighting for our town, and we were able to provide some mutual aid to another community later in the season. However, there were a lot of lessons learned, and we can always find better ways to enhance our collaboration.”

Milton said he looked forward to working with the provincial government to make sure that everyone is better prepared for this and future wildfire seasons. 

In his letter, Schroeder said the time to act is now.

“The AFCA emphasized the urgency of addressing these concerns before the onset of the wildfire season,” he added.

“It is imperative to have a clear, well-resourced, and collaborative strategy that involves all levels of government to effectively manage and mitigate the risks of wildfires in Alberta.”

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 07, 2024 at 17:00

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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