When this year’s budget was announced, we tweeted some exciting news: an additional $31 million in 2014-15 for special wildfire funding.
That’s a lot of money, and some of our readers have inquired to ask what exactly it will be used for. To answer that question, we’ll need to go back a few years, to one of the most destructive wildfire seasons we’ve ever had – and what we’ve been able to learn from it.
The Slave Lake Area Wildfires
In May 2011, extreme weather conditions caused some of the worst wildfires in Canadian history. Those fires burned 790,000 hectares of forest – more than 10 times the five-year average. And due to high wind conditions, in May, three of those wildfires – together, now known as the ‘Flat Top Complex’ – impacted the town of Slave Lake and the surrounding area.
When the fires were extinguished, they left more than $700 million in insurable losses. More than 700 households lost their homes; thousands of people were evacuated.
This was the single most costly wildfire disaster in Canada’s history. We’ve come together as a province to recover from it – and that work is ongoing. But it’s also our responsibility to work to understand what happened – and hopefully, prevent it from happening again.
Learning from the past: the Flat Top Complex Report
The Flat Top Complex Report, released in 2012, helps us do that. The report uses all the evidence we have to tell us how the Slave Lake wildfires happened – and the lessons they hold for the future.
And the main lesson is simple: we can expect wildfires to increase in complexity, frequency, and severity. We must be better prepared to fight them.
The report made 21 recommendations to improve how our government prepares for and responds to wildfires. We’re implementing all of those recommendations.
What we’ve done so far
As a result of the Flat Top report, we’re working to step up our wildfire management game from every angle. We’re starting fire season earlier. We’re building better reporting and response relationships with communities, stakeholders, and fire behavior specialists. And we’re continuing to expand the FireSmart program, putting wildfire prevention tools in the hands of the municipalities that need them.
To fully support these initiatives, we allocate special funding in the budget. In 2013-14, we committed $18 million in special funding. Today, we announced where $4.5 million of that funding will go – to FireSmart projects in 19 communities across the province.
What this year’s special allocation will fund
So, where will this year’s $31 million go? We’ll use it to keep fighting the good fight against wildfires. It will allow us to hire more wildland firefighters – which means more boots on the ground. It will support better community response programs, and more public education. And, it will fund even more FireSmart projects in some of the 425 communities in Alberta’s forested areas.
The bottom line? We’ll make sure this funding goes as far as possible towards implementing the recommendations of Flat Top – and helping to make sure that we never have to learn them again.
Audio of today’s announcement is available on SoundCloud.