Alberta Wildfire is hiring 200 additional firefighters, invoking a fire ban, implementing off-highway vehicle (OHV) restrictions, increasing fine violations and funding $20 million more in community FireSmart initiatives, all to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season during COVID-19.
Alberta Parks is also instituting a fire ban in all provincial parks and protected areas.
These early preparedness measures will ensure the province can effectively focus resources where they are needed most in the event of multiple emergencies happening at the same time.
Typically, the wildfire hazard is highest in Alberta in late April through May, when fuel like trees and grasses have extremely low moisture content after the snow has melted.
More than 880,000 hectares burned last year and 71 per cent of wildfires were human-caused and entirely preventable. With provincial resources currently stretched due to COVID-19, these preventative measures will better equip Alberta’s response to spring wildfires this year.
Increased firefighting resources
An additional $5 million investment is being made to hire and train 200 high-quality firefighters to assist with the provincial wildfire suppression this season.
More than 800 seasonal firefighters will join 370 year-round staff at Alberta Wildfire. These resources are hired at one of the 10 Forest Areas, and are moved throughout the Forest Protection Area as required.
Fire ban and OHV restriction
A fire ban in the Forest Protection Area, provincial parks and protected areas, as well as a recreational OHV ban on Crown land in the Forest Protection Area, will come into effect April 15.
Alberta’s Forest Protection Area covers almost 60 per cent of Alberta, most of the northern half of the province and the western border, excluding federal parks.
The government recognizes that many Albertans use OHVs and respects this valid activity. At the same time, the government must take into account limitations and manage risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hot mufflers can potentially start wildfires.
The fire ban and OHV restriction are temporary measures, which will remain in place only as long as required to combat the wildfire risk. Measures may later be adjusted to take into account the needs of specific regions.
All fire permits will be suspended in this area, and landowners are responsible for ensuring any holdover fires are extinguished by this time.
Indigenous people may use OHVs on public land for traditional purposes. Use of OHVs on private lands, for industrial use (for example forestry, agriculture and energy) and by emergency responders is also permitted.
Fines are being doubled from $300 to $600 for non-compliance with a fire ban and from $600 to $1,200 for non-compliance with an OHV restriction. With 71 per cent of last year’s wildfires started by people, these fine increases reflect the seriousness of the preventative measure Albertans must take to prevent wildfires.
Individuals found contravening a fire ban or OHV restriction will be subject to increased fines, starting April 15, and could be held liable for all costs associated with fighting a wildfire. Last year, more than $600 million was spent fighting wildfires in Alberta.
These fines are in addition to the existing penalties for arson under the Criminal Code.
Increased FireSmart funding
FireSmart will receive a funding boost of up to $20 million to support vegetation management in the province. The department will work with municipalities to ensure these funds are used this fiscal year.
FireSmart helps to reduce the wildfire risk to Albertans, their homes and communities. The FireSmart program includes grants to support the most at-risk communities in Alberta, including Indigenous communities.
This additional funding will help mitigate wildfire damages and losses in more Alberta communities by creating FireSmart zones around at-risk communities to reduce wildfire hazards.
“Albertans are tough and we’re all doing what we can to keep each other safe during COVID-19. With Alberta’s wildfire season matching with the expected peak of COVID-19, we have to take extra precautions to ensure our response efforts are well-funded and planned out. This spring, we may find ourselves facing multiple disasters at once. With all these measures, we will be prepared.”Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
Government emergency response
To increase response capacity and prepare for multiple and concurrent disasters, such as wildfires and floods, the Provincial Operations Centre has been reinforced by the creation of a Pandemic Response Planning Team. This team will help coordinate government’s medium and long-term response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our province is taking steps to prepare for wildfires and other hazards this spring and summer by increasing our emergency response capacity. This means that while we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will also be ready to respond to other emergencies as they may arise.”Kaycee Madu, Minister of Municipal Affairs
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