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Report on Slave Lake wildfire calls for more advisories and initial-response crews

 Friday morning, the Flat Top Complex Wildfire Review Committee released its report on the response to the Slave Lake wildfire May 15 2011.

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen and the Committee chair Bill Sweeney were part of the announcement.

Here is the Government release on the report:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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