Spring 2019 Wildfire Review

The 2019 wildfire season was one of the worst on record in terms of hectares burned (over 880,000 hectares or over two million acres); second only to 1981. The Spring 2019 Wildfire Review was commissioned by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry to assess:

  • the extraordinary 2019 spring wildfire in Alberta, specifically:
    • Chuckegg Creek wildfire (High Level Forest Area)
    • Battle complex (Peace River Forest Area)
    • McMillan complex (Slave Lake Forest Area)
  • the department’s wildfire preparation and response to those wildfires
  • impact on and perspectives of residents, partners and stakeholders
  • components of Agriculture and Forestry’s wildfire management program

The objective of external reviews, such as the Spring 2019 Wildfire Review, is to provide for continuous learning in order to better address operational and policy issues, and to implement incremental program refinements and enhancements in a timely manner.

Alberta is already taking action on the recommendations in preparation for the 2021 wildfire season. Some initiatives are expected to be completed by next spring, while others are multi-year projects.

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Recommendation 1: Immediately implement a government wide, disaster resilience and prevention focused task force to enhance the adoption of FireSmart activities and principles across government, at the community level and to incorporate wildfire prevention in community services.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Identified opportunities for alternative building codes, subdivision development, and further risk-sharing programs.
  • Continue to work with industry and relevant associations; cost-recovery programs.
  • Established FireSmart Program within Agriculture and Forestry.
  • Groundwork in place for the FireSmart Alberta (established June 2020).

Recommendation 2: Immediately develop a comprehensive strategy for incendiary wildfire prevention to reduce the number and severity of incendiary wildfires.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Provincial wildfire tip reporting line, through 310-FIRE, in place for reporting on arson and incendiary fires.
  • Updating fire investigation courses, practices, and procedures to reflect lessons learned on investigation and court proceedings current.
  • Continue partnerships with RCMP for investigations and enforcement of incendiary wildfires.
  • Continue to collaborate with Crime Stoppers and RCMP for public communications regarding incendiary wildfires.

Recommendation 3: Conduct more comprehensive review of AF communications and stakeholder engagement strategies, systems and processes with objective of improving the experience of community members and stakeholders who are directly or indirectly impacted by wildfire or other natural disasters.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Participation in an upcoming omnibus survey of Albertans to discover how people get wildfire information and knowledge gaps in wildfire prevention.
  • New wildfire status map is now activated. Improvements include more detailed information such as wildfire perimeters.
  • Working with Communications and Public Engagement on identifying barriers to communication and development of a protocol is underway.

= Fully met the intent of the recommendation. Ongoing implementation.

= In progress

Recommendation 4: Develop and implement a new preparedness planning framework that balances risk, hazard, values and cost to improve overall outcomes.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Task force initiated to investigate a risk based decision support system.
  • By 2021 fire season assess the current state and identify gaps and challenges.

Recommendation 5: Improve quality and integration of weather and wildfire behavior functions to support strategic preparedness and response.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Task force initiated to investigate longer range preparedness planning and weather forecasts.

Recommendation 6: Accelerate the development and approval of the remaining Wildfire Management Plans (WMPs) to have them completed in the shortest possible timeframe.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Development of Grande Prairie and Peace River Forest Areas wildfire management plans is underway.
  • Initiated Whitecourt Forest Area initiated wildfire management plan in October 2020.

= Fully met the intent of the recommendation. Ongoing implementation.

= In progress

Recommendation 7: Establish a standard operating procedure (SOP) for situations when a wildfire escapes Initial Attack during the high risk conditions and where there are significant values at risk. The SOP would identify that a senior Incident Commander be assigned immediately to assume command of the wildfire until the first Incident Management Team assumes control.

Highlights of Implementation

  • In the fall of 2019 a standard operating procedure was developed for ignition authority for 2020 fire season.
  • In the spring of 2020 delivered new ignition training to Incident Commanders.
  • Working group formed to focus on standard operating procedure for Incident Commander Role on wildfires prior to an incident management team being deployed.

Recommendation 8: Revise standard tactics and strategies for sustained attack to have better, safer, and more cost-effective results.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Working groups will be established to review current standards around sustained attack processes.
    • Training courses will reflect the recommendations from this group.
  • Operations course in development follow up on content.

Recommendation 9: Review current policy and provide direction to wildfire management staff regarding wildfire status to clarify stages of control and the status of wildfires being monitored.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Working group formed to review wildfire status terminology and reporting.
    • Training and communications will reflect the recommendations of this group.

Recommendation 10: Develop and train staff, including staff from other ministries, to support Incident Management Team deployments and Forest Areas under escalating workloads to ensure enough staff are available for deployments.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Training is built for a broad audience, staff not specialized in wildfire management are welcome to attend.
  • Certification process and mentoring processes in place.
  • Work with the Community and Technical Support, Technical and Corporate Services (formerly the Office of the Fire Commissioner) and Municipal Affairs to establish regional incident management team to respond to all hazards.

Recommendation 11: Implement a common mandatory radio communication system for all AF wildfire personnel, municipal firefighters and first responders working on wildfire incidents.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Modify and enhance the communications standard operating procedures to better accommodate first responders engaged on wildfire events related to interoperability requirements.
  • This has been started with North West Fire Chiefs Association and several other single municipal fire associations.
  • A jurisdictional scan is underway on various radio systems and review interoperability technologies.
  • Interoperable functionality has been implemented on the FireNet, FireLine radio systems with Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFFRACS) for the 2020 fire season. The system was tested in real events in the Northwest with success.

Recommendation 12: Accelerate the development of a safety culture that values incident reporting, hazard assessments, workplace committees and inspections, and the engagement of front-line staff in conversations designed to protect their health and well-being.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Three-year occupational health and safety plan is under development.

= Fully met the intent of the recommendation. Ongoing implementation.

= In progress

Recommendation 13: Continue with the legacy modernization program to provide functionality required by AF to help improve the delivery and help reduce the impact of wildfires in Alberta.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Development of the legacy modernization program continues.

= Fully met the intent of the recommendation. Ongoing implementation.

= In progress

Recommendation 14: Undertake a deeper cost-benefit analysis of program spending with a focus on major suppression items.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Operational cost benefit analysis have been undertaken and actions implemented for helicopter contract structure.
  • Contract process initiative underway to create a unified, streamlined process that is transparent, consistent, efficient, and understood by vendors, the public and staff completed.
  • Preliminary of cost benefit analysis of heavy equipment contracts, further analysis required.
  • Preliminary review underway of overtime expenses for staff.

= Fully met the intent of the recommendation. Ongoing implementation.

= In progress

Recommendation 15: Accelerate the development and organization of the Intelligence Unit in the AWCC to support strategic risk management and resource planning.

Highlights of Implementation

  • Updating the Intelligence Unit policies and procedures.

= Fully met the intent of the recommendation. Ongoing implementation.

= In progress


Updated: Dec 18, 2020