Alta. prepares for wildfire season

The Alberta government is implementing a number of measures to better prepare for the upcoming wildfire season.

The province announced April 14 it is hiring an additional 200 firefighters, invoking a fire ban, implementing off-highway vehicle restrictions and increasing fines.

As well, it said it’s funding an additional $20 million for FireSmart initiatives to prepare for the wildfire season.

“With Alberta’s wildfire season matching with the expected peak of COVID-19, we have to take extra precautions to ensure our response efforts are well-funded and planned out,” Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said in a new release.

“This spring, we may find ourselves facing multiple disasters at once. With all these measures, we will be prepared.”

Alberta is most at risk of wildfires in April through May. It’s when trees and grasses remain extremely dry after the snow has melted.

Last year, more than one million acres burned. The government estimates 71 percent of last year’s fires were caused by humans and were preventable.

Of the new measures, the government will invest $5 million to hire and train roughly 2,000 firefighters to assist with suppression.

As well, more than 800 seasonal firefighters will join 370 year-round staff at the Alberta Wildfire department.

Dreeshen suggested it might be difficult for the province to get outside help because of travel restrictions during the pandemic. This means the province will be doing its own hiring, he said.

As for the fire ban, it will be in Alberta’s forest protection areas, provincial parks and protected areas.

People will be banned from using OHVs on crown land in the forest protection area. Hot mufflers can start wildfires, the province said.

The forest protection area covers roughly 60 percent of the province and is situated mostly in the northern region.

Use of OHVs on private land and for industrial use (including agriculture) is allowed. Emergency responders are also allowed to use OHVs. Indigenous peoples can use them on public land for traditional purposes, the government said.

Fines are being doubled from $300 to $600 for non-compliance with a fire ban. Fines will range from $600 to $1,200 for people who don’t comply with the OHV ban.

The government said the person receiving the fine could also be liable for all costs associated with fighting a wildfire. Last year, more than $600 million was spent fighting wildfires in Alberta.

Those who are non-compliant with the bans may be required to go to court, and may receive a fine of up to $100,000.

The $20 million in additional funding for FireSmart will be used to support vegetation management. The province said it will work with municipalities to support communities most at risk of wildfire.

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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