June 8, 2017 7:22 pm
Updated: June 9, 2017 2:42 pm

Report into Fort McMurray wildfire cites communications breakdown in early days

WATCH ABOVE: A report into the Fort McMurray wildfire cites critical communications breakdowns as the fire swept into the municipality. Vinesh Pratap reports from the Northern Alberta city.

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A report into the Fort McMurray wildfire cites critical communications breakdowns as the fire swept into the municipality and forced thousands to flee. (Read the reports below).

Independent consultants that produced the report for the province noted that in the early days of the fire in May 2016, the two crews battling the blazes were operating through different command centres.

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Communication broke down when one crew chief realized the fire would enter Fort McMurray, but failed to inform crews in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

The municipality had to learn from social media that the fire was entering the community.

“It was unfortunate that someone had to learn about events on social media, I would agree 100 per cent,” Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier told a news conference Thursday night.

“The report recommends communications could have been tighter and I would agree.”

Watch below: Ministers Oneil Carlier and Shaye Anderson took some heat from reporters who questioned the picture they were painting over the Fort McMurray wildfire report.

The Alberta government commissioned reports from two independent consultants to examine firefighting and emergency response efforts into the wildfire that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and forced almost 88,000 people to flee north and south for a month in May 2016.

In response to the communications problem, the province is implementing a new integrated communications system over the next five years. In the interim there are procedures to work around those gaps by, for example, uploading maps to IPads.

“We’re trying to make sure we can roll it out as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson.

“(In the meantime) we’re using all the tools in the toolbox. Regardless if it’s social media or if it’s radios or cellphones or whatever it is, we have to work with what we have right now.”

Watch below: Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson and Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier discuss results of a third-party review of the Fort McMurray wildfire response. 

The report from consultant MNP said the fire was complex, with shifting winds changing the situation rapidly.

The report said it would have been helpful if there had been an air tanker group at the Fort McMurray airport as the fire grew, but said it was understandable given the other fire dangers in the province.

It said the focus on fighting the fire allowed other priorities to lag.

“There is limited evidence that contingency plans were being developed and implemented during the first 36 hours aimed at providing opportunities to contain or minimize damage as the wildfire approached the community,” stated the report.

READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Alberta warned of ‘catastrophic’ fire risk in 2012 report

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who lost his home in Fort McMurray during the fire, reiterated his call for a public inquiry.

“This is a damning report. We need a judge-led public inquiry. Those who lost everything deserve answers,” Jean said on Twitter.

The second report, by consultant KPMG, examined the overall emergency response effort.

KPMG made a number of recommendations, including clarifying and documenting how to delegate authority in emergency situations. The province is now reviewing that process.

KPMG said residents in Fort McMurray struggled with mixed messages when they were forced to flee May 3. A news conference at 11 a.m. that day told them an evacuation was “a long way off,” but just hours later they were forced out on little notice.

READ MORE: Alberta to complete review into Fort McMurray wildfire response by summer

The report said social media, neighbours running to inform and help out others, and those sharing space in their cars and trucks with strangers to get out was critical.

“Ultimately, the success of the evacuation during the wildfire was largely due to the young demographics of the community, and how the community rallied together,” said the report.

Jean slammed the government for its timing in releasing the reports.

The government received the reports in March. Carlier said they didn’t want to release them as the anniversary of the fire approached.

Jean said it is “absolutely outrageous that the government hid this report for months to avoid accountability.”

“The thousands of people who lost their homes have been demanding answers and the government has intentionally hid this report from them,” Jean said in a statement.

“The information in this report shows that we were not prepared and more should have been done. It’s now more clear than ever that we need an independent judge-led inquiry for full transparency and accountability.”

Watch below: Agriculture and Forestry minister Oneil Carlier tries to answer a question on why provincial officials didn’t notify municipal officials that the wildfire was going to breach the town in Fort McMurray.

In May 2016, the wildfire forced the evacuation of the entire city of Fort McMurray, surrounding communities, and oilsands sites and camps.

The province said the reviews, conducted by KPMG and MNP, are “standard practice after disasters.”

Watch below: Two new reports on the Fort McMurray wildfire say the province wasn’t fully prepared, and the fighters on the frontlines didn’t have the command support they needed. As Tom Vernon reports, the government promises it will learn from these mistakes.

READ BELOW: KPMG report into Fort McMurray wildfire response

KPMG Fort McMurray Wildfire Report – May 2016 by Anonymous TdomnV9OD4 on Scribd

READ BELOW: MNP report into response to the Fort McMurray wildfire 

With files from Global News.

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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