2016 Horse River Wildfire

This review looks at Agriculture and Forestry’s wildfire preparation and readiness up to May 31, 2016, and the ministry’s steps taken to respond to the Horse River wildfire.

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Recommendation 1: Continue Agriculture and Forestry’s strategic direction to be fully prepared and ready to respond to wildfires the week after snow disappears or May 1 annually, whichever date is expected sooner. This may mean changes to the activation dates for aircraft and firefighting crews.

Highlights of Implementation

  • For the past six years, Agriculture and Forestry has started the fire season one month early, on March 1. This allows additional time for initiatives such as training firefighters which allows the department to be prepared for wildfire activity. It also allows the department to start tracking fire permits earlier in the year.
  • In December 2016, legislation was passed to legislate March 1 as the start of the fire season.
  • Agriculture and Forestry will continue to evaluate the activation dates for firefighters and aircraft and will bring them on early, if needed.

Recommendation 3: Enhance and expand the Planning Section in the Alberta Wildfire Coordination Centre to be operational March 1 annually, commencing in 2017, to provide daily fire behaviour and wildfire occurrence predictions to decision makers and to coordinate situation updates.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Agriculture and Forestry’s wildfire planning experts are scheduled to provide support to wildfire operations effective March 1 each year. This support is activated at the Department’s Alberta Wildfire Coordination Centre and in its Forest Areas based on the wildfire hazard.
  • The wildfire planning experts provide wildfire predictions and tracking information such as daily fire behaviour and resource availability.

Recommendation 2: Improve fire weather forecast materials by extending the length of the forecast outlook period and working closely with the Alberta Wildfire Coordination Centre, Planning Section to design products that directly link weather forecasts with predicted fire behaviour.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Agriculture and Forestry is providing 5-day or longer wildfire-related weather forecasts instead of the previous 1 to 3-day weather forecasts.
  • Wildfire meteorologists are working towards producing 10-day forecasts for weather trends.
  • Evaluation of products and processes related to fire weather and fire behaviour forecasting is ongoing.

Recommendation 4: Establish a standard operating procedure across Agriculture and Forestry which requires, when a wildfire escapes from initial attack and interface risks are present, the immediate assignment of a senior Incident Commander to undertake tactical planning for wildfire containment and risk mitigation.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Agriculture and Forestry is enhancing the process to allocate firefighting resources to complex wildfires near communities. For those wildfires that require response from both urban and wildland firefighters, Agriculture and Forestry will promptly assign an appropriate wildfire Incident Commander and associated support resources to respond to the wildfire.
  • Rostered Type 1 Incident Command teams are in place March 1 of each year.

Recommendation 5: Develop an improved procedural model for airspace management where confined airspace over a community or airport is involved.

Highlights of Implementation

  • During the Horse River wildfire, Agriculture and Forestry’s airspace management procedures were implemented and adapted to meet the extraordinary circumstances caused by the wildfire. These procedures will be utilized on future wildfire events.
  • Agriculture and Forestry’s wildfire management training and Standard Operating Procedures have been updated to reflect these procedures.

Recommendation 6: Continue to develop risk management frameworks as the foundation for wildfire management policy. This would include reviewing the list of five provincial priorities as the central policy and emphasizing a risk and consequence approach.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Agriculture and Forestry’s wildfire experts are reviewing the list of five provincial priorities for wildfire management (human life, communities, watersheds and sensitive soils, natural resources, infrastructure) to determine if adjustments need to be made in how they should be applied.
  • Wildfire Management Plans are being completed and incorporated into business practices.
  • Three of the 10 Forest Areas have completed wildfire management plans. The remaining 7 plans are on track to be completed by 2020.

Recommendation 7: Direct agencies and services involved in wildfire suppression in relation to the Wildland Urban Interface to establish standard operating procedures for the implementation of an Incident Command System (ICS) and processes following the model provided by ICS Canada for future incidents like the Horse River wildfire.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Agriculture and Forestry is supporting the work of Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) to establish standard processes for agencies and services to appropriately use ICS Canada when dealing with Wildland Urban Interface wildfires.
  • Agriculture and Forestry will continue to support the provision of ICS training when requested and available.
  • The Department’s wildfire management staff will participate in All Hazard Incident Management Teams and associated training.

Recommendation 8: Emphasize a long-term vision for FireSmart within the province that includes community responsibility, multi-agency collaboration and an outcome-based approach to implementing FireSmart projects. Ensure all seven disciplines of FireSmart are addressed.

Highlights of Implementation

  • In 2017, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry committed that the department would manage a FireSmart program of approximately $15 million annually over a 3-year period.
  • FireSmart Council, made up of engaged partners, will establish a cooperative and collaborative working group to address the growing threat of wildfires. The council will develop framework to address the province’s wildfire prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts (initiation planned for 2019).
  • Develop a FireSmart information management system for program tracking, reporting, decision support and operational effectiveness (completion planned for 2019).
  • Support FireSmart Canada program delivery in Alberta:
    • FireSmart Home Partner’s Program - FireSmart Begins at Home
    • FireSmart Community Recognition Program
    • FireSmart Community Champions Program
    • National Community Wildfire Preparedness Day
    • Local FireSmart Representative Workshops (presented by FireSmart Canada with support from Agriculture and Forestry)

Recommendation 9: Establish a joint Wildfire Planning Task Team comprised of senior Agriculture and Forestry staff and major industrial stakeholders (such as oil sands, energy, forestry, and utility companies) from across Alberta.

Highlights of Implementation

  • A committee will be established that includes members from forest industry, energy industry, electrical industry, aboriginal groups, municipalities and Agriculture and Forestry (initiation planned for 2019).
  • Provide a forum for Agriculture and Forestry briefings on wildfire operations.
  • The Wildfire Planning Task Team is being initiated, and will include wildland firefighting experts and industry stakeholders (e.g., forestry, oil and gas, utility).
  • A Strategic Direction for Managing Power Line Wildfire Risk in Alberta has been developed in partnership with the utility industry.

Recommendation 10: Complete and implement a unique and tailored landscape wildfire management planning process for the northeast of the Alberta.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Agriculture and Forestry has developed a draft landscape wildfire management plan that will provide wildfire experts information such as values at risk and hazardous fuel identification. This information will support decision making during wildfire events.

Updated: Jan 23, 2019