A provincial review of the Kenow Mountain wildfire in Waterton Lakes National Park last year is calling for major changes for fighting future disasters.
The report, coordinated by Alberta Municipal Affairs, says a Kenow-type of event will become more common and issued recommendations to better manage disasters involving multiple jurisdictions.
“The recommendations in this report will assist in improving Alberta’s emergency management system and strengthening relationships between the Government of Alberta and other stakeholders when reacting to complex incidents in the future,” the report reads.
It goes on to say there were command and communications challenges between federal, provincial, municipal and regional agencies and the fire departments fighting the blaze.
The out-of-control fire started with a lightning strike on Aug. 30. It quickly spread through the national park, sparking evacuations, threatening communities, closing highways and destroying Parks Canada infrastructure.
According to the report, some stakeholders didn’t understand their responsibilities or know who was in command.
“During the Kenow fire, some stakeholders did not understand the jurisdictional responsibilities outside of their boundaries,” the report reads. “Some felt that it was never made clear to them who had the legal authority, who was in command, or what terminology was being used.”
A unified command system, used at the command post in the Waterton townsite to coordinate the firefighting and evacuation response, was found to be confusing.
“Stakeholders with different views of the command structure had different expectations of the responsibilities and authorities of their partners. Assumptions were made on who would be responsible for which task, creating further confusion between jurisdictions.”
The review also found residents in the fire path were confused about evacuation centres and routes in-and-out of their communities, and that information was poorly communicated.
“Residents voiced concern over the lack of information and the timelines. They also questioned whether they were being told the correct information,” the report reads.
“Residents in each of the multiple jurisdictions reported that they were not getting the same information as others.”
There was also concern that information between the various agencies, departments and communities fighting the fire was not shared equally.
“In complex emergencies, it is clearly necessary for information to flow in all directions,” the report reads.” “Jurisdictions must be willing to share situation reports with all involved stakeholders if they wish to receive material back in return.”
The Kenow Fire Post Incident Assessment concluded that better relationships must be built in advance of any further disasters to improve jurisdictional responsibilities.
“Stakeholders must be aware of what is going on outside of their borders, and be willing to share information with their neighbours,” the report said.
This is the second report on the Kenow Mountain wildfire that points to communication errors as the situation unfolded; a report from the Municipal District of Pincher Creek released in December said the lack communication and cooperation between federal, provincial and municipal governments created issues before the fire even started.