December 6, 2017 10:34 pm

Kenow wildfire report points to lack of communication during event, Alberta minister disagrees

WATCH: A recent report is painting a not-so-great picture when it comes to how communications were handled during and after the Kenow wildfire. Quinn Campbell reports.

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A report released by the Municipal District of Pincher Creek says a lack of cooperation ignited issues before the Kenow wildfire even started this summer.

The report by Kenneth Kendall Consulting, highlights a lack of communication between the federal and provincial government and the M.D., but Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson indicated he took issue with the report.

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“To be quite frank, I think it lacks a bit of the rigor and the comprehensiveness of a typical post-incident assessment,” Anderson said on Wednesday. “We think our officials did a great job on the ground, the municipal officials did a great job and we can always learn, but we are disappointed in the lack of credibility there.”

The report states the premier was given information about things like structural damage and fire status well before M.D. officials.

READ MORE: Waterton wildfire update: blaze grows by 33,000 hectares, visitor centre lost

“The elected municipal representatives of the M.D. of Pincher Creek didn’t have that information to share with the constituents,” the report reads. “This was a major black eye to the local councillors and [a] significant example of poor communication between government departments and levels of governments.”

Anderson disputed that assessment.

“I completely disagree with that statement , that’s inaccurate,” he said. “The premier had the information that was given to local officials on the ground. Provincial and local officials are given that information as soon as possible.”

The report also highlights communication issues between people on the front lines of the fire and the M.D.

“During the event, the M.D. of Pincher Creek chief administrative officer (CAO)/director of emergency management (DEM) was frustrated with the lack of timely and accurate information from the Regional Fire Chief and had requested a senior fire officer be assigned to the EOC (emergency operations centre). This did not occur after several requests.”

The M.D. of Pincher Creek’s chief administrative officer refused to comment on the report on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Residents of M.D. of Pincher Creek call for inquiry into Kenow fire

The debrief also claims while Parks Canada was set up in the M.D. building, they did not share timely information with M.D. officials.

“Parks Canada was a guest in the M.D.’s building and the CAO/DEM could have stepped into the council chambers and demanded hourly updates on the speed and direction of the fire from the moment the fire entered the national park,” the report says. “Or more importantly, Parks Canada would have easily been able to walk down the hall and provide that information to the M.D. on an hourly basis in hopes of keeping informed their longtime neighbour. From this information, a more robust response of M.D. resources and more accurate public information could have been generated.”

In a statement, Parks Canada said it did not receive an advanced copy of the debrief before it was published and was not involved in the production of the report. However, the federal agency said it did participate in the M.D. of Pincher Creek’s debriefing session held on Oct. 3. Parks Canada said it is “currently reviewing the document.”

READ MORE: Waterton townsite opens to public Wednesday as Kenow fire remains held

“Parks Canada values the collaboration with all wildfire management partners, agencies and local authorities on the Kenow fire. Collaboration was essential to developing a rapid and successful response to the Kenow fire, which was an exceptional wildfire event.

“Efforts by all partners were critical to the monitoring and management of the Kenow fire,” Parks Canada said. “Extremely dry conditions and high winds caused rapid progress of the Kenow fire on Sept. 11, 2017.

“Despite tremendous efforts by Parks Canada and many partners, the fire advanced quickly and some properties were damaged within the national park and adjacent to the park. We are grateful that no serious injuries were sustained or lives lost during this incident. Our thoughts are with those who have sustained property damage and loss.”

Parks Canada said as it does with any “major incident,” it is now analyzing the Kenow fire and developing an “after action report as part of standard fire management practice and are also participating in partner agencies’ debriefings to identify successful actions and lessons learned.

“We will continue to work with provincial partners and neighbouring jurisdictions with the objective of continuous improvement of emergency response and fire management.”

READ MORE: Waterton wildfire update: No homes lost in townsite but Alpine Stables destroyed

The consulting firm that wrote the report told Global News it took about a month to complete the review and that information was gathered from a series of debrief meetings with M.D. staff and officials, key stakeholders – including government agencies – and also residents who were directly impacted.

The consulting firm has previously worked with the M.D. and has provided them with emergency response and incident command training in recent years.

Anderson said he has an issue with the way information was gathered for the report.

“My understanding is, they did reach out to one official of ours and spoke for approximately 10 minutes, which is not typical of what happens in one of these reports,” he said. “It’s usually way more comprehensive, so we are a little disappointed in that.”

He also confirmed the province will be doing its own comprehensive review of the Kenow wildfire, adding it will be complex.

MLA Pat Stier, who represents constituents in the M.D. of Pincher Creek, said residents had expressed concern about the communication during the fire. Anderson said those concerns will be addressed in the province’s report. He did not provide a timeline for when that report will be complete, but said it will be made available to the public when it’s finished.

Parks Canada said it is also doing its own review of the fire but did not specify when or if it would be made available.

Here is a link to the full report.

 

 

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