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L&rsquo ;Alberta is working hard to anticipate forest fire season

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According to federal data, forest fires consumed 3.5 million hectares – a record – in the province in 2023. (Photo archives)

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To avoid being surprised by the wildfire season, the scale of which was unprecedented in the province last year, the Alberta government will equip forest firefighting teams with #x27;full staff ahead of schedule.

Alberta Wildfire, the provincial wildfire agency, is already hard at work recruiting more firefighters. The goal is to have everything ready two weeks earlier than during the 2023 season, during which the fires burned, according to federal data, 3.5 million hectares, a record.

We should be complete by April 15, two weeks earlier than normal, assures the Minister of Forestry and Parks in an interview , Todd Loewen.

Although fire season officially begins on March 1, Alberta Wildfire is generally not fully staffed and equipped until early May. Last year's fire season was a game changer.

Wildfires started early last year due to drought and hot, windy weather. The province declared a state of emergency on May 6. More than 38,000 people had to leave their homes over the summer.

The province has been criticized for staff cuts made in the past and for not appearing prepared to deal with an unprecedented season, in which many Large fires broke out simultaneously throughout the province.

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ELSE ON NEWS: In the land of cans, life is hard and tight< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Mr. Loewen says the department is recruiting more seasonal firefighting personnel this year and is signing contracts to secure aircraft operators for the season .

Alberta Wildfire is also looking to expand the use of technologies such as helicopters equipped with night vision and drones capable of aerial surveillance. x27;thermal imaging to check for hot spots during nighttime hours.

There are a lot of things we have changed and we want to make sure we are ready for the upcoming season.

A quote from Todd Loewen, Minister of Forestry and Parks

The Buck Creek Fire, which affected Drayton Valley and Brazeau County, started April 23 as a small grass fire. The blaze then grew due to strong winds and very hot, dry conditions, forcing Drayton Valley residents to evacuate the town for nearly two weeks in early May. /p>

Many houses there were destroyed by the flames.

Brazeau County, which operates in Drayton Valley, lost 2 of its 82 homes in the fire area.

Brazeau County has hired an outside consultant to review the 2023 response.

The county, located southwest of ;Edmonton, lies partly within the Forest Protection Zone (Green Zone), which is the responsibility of Alberta Wildfire.

Municipal firefighters are responsible for forest fires in the white zone, which is outside of these zones. Municipalities can ask for help from provincial teams, but the needs were so great last year that they had to fend for themselves.

According to Warden Bart Guyon, the split between green and white zones in Brazeau County is roughly half and half. The County ended up spending $10 million on firefighting in 2023 and is still waiting to hear how much it will receive from the province.

When #x27;Told the province intended to have full staffing by April 15, Guyon said he preferred that date to be brought forward.

As for costs, he believes that fighting forest fires in white areas has become too heavy a burden for municipalities to shoulder alone.

The issue of firefighting costs outside forest protection areas was the subject of a Parkland County resolution, asking the province to #x27;develop a long-term strategy.

Yellowhead County, for its part, sent Mr. Loewen a letter criticizing the province for its lack of preparation and slow response last year.

Parkland County spent $13 million fighting wildfires in 2023. It is still waiting for the province to reimburse it for part of it.

The County also wants provincial funds to be put in place to help municipalities finance firefighting.

Mr. Loewen said he has already spoken to Yellowhead and Mackenzie counties, and would be happy to speak with any county that would like to meet with him. We must strengthen our cooperation with municipalities.

With information from Michelle Bellefontaine

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