Municipal district wants to learn from devastating fire

The Alberta municipality looks to province, power company for compensation and reviews communication system

The Municipal District of Acadia, which saw more than 12,000 acres of farmland burned and about 190 head of cattle killed in an Oct. 16 wildfire, plans to ask the province of Alberta and Atco Electric to compensate affected residents for their losses.

The municipality declared a local state of emergency during the fire, which was one of many that occurred in Alberta and Saskatchewan amid unusually high winds and dry conditions.

Chief administrative officer Brent Williams said the province has a municipal wildfire assistance program that can reimburse for losses to municipal property and infrastructure. However, he said the MD is hoping that can be expanded so residents can apply for needed funds, similar to what happened during the 2013 flood around Calgary.

“We will approach the government to open up that program … to let eligible private individuals to apply through the municipality to get reimbursed for some uninsurable expenses,” said Williams.

Fire is an insurable loss, but the question is whether that insurance is affordable and available.

The fire was caused by a downed Atco electrical pole, according to the post-fire investigation.

“We don’t have any plans to pursue legal action of course, but we’re just hoping we can sit down with them and try to come to some arrangement between them and landowners, not only just to get reimbursed for costs but we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, because those poles are almost 40 years old. Another wind could easily cause this again.”

Williams said the MD is taking steps to learn from the fire. Plans include improvements to the radio communication system used by fire departments and responders, establishing a mutual aid agreement with the Rural Municipality of Chesterfield in Saskatchewan and installing software to record, update and manage the land line numbers and cellphone numbers of area residents so they can be called during emergencies.

When the wildfire occurred last month, “we had to manually call everyone in the path of the fire,” said Williams, but that proved impossible with limited manpower, outdated numbers and the fact that the municipal office itself had to be evacuated.

As well, one councillor’s home was on fire during the emergency and the others were also fighting fire, limiting their ability to communicate with residents.

The MD also plans to update its emergency response manual, Williams said.

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