Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – Saying Goodbye to Rappel Firefighter Jamie

As the temperature starts to drop and the leaves start to change colour, the wildfire season comes to a close for me. I always feel mixed emotions as the fire season ends. While I am excited to see what winter will bring – to see friends and family again, and to unpack the bag I have been living out of for the past eight months – there are many things I will miss about this season. I will miss rappelling, working with helicopters, fighting wildfires and traveling, but the one thing I will miss most are the interactions with my crewmates and coworkers.

Continue reading

Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – Boots to the Ground

Natalie_EWF-015-05-3565Edson unit crew; first full shift as a crew under the belt. A grueling 24 day shift with three wildfire events added to the crew’s dossier. After fighting the wildfire near Lodgepole from out of control to being held, or contained, my crew was dispatched north to the next wildfire event: an out-of-control wildfire 44 kilometres northwest of Edson. This out of control fire exploded from 50 to 400+ hectares in less than 24 hours, requiring the efforts of all available firefighters, aircraft and equipment in the area. Normally, firefighting crews work 15-18 day deployments and only under the most exceptional circumstances are these shifts extended. With the wildfire hazard in the extreme level, the decision was made to keep the Edson unit crew on the fireline for an additional six days.

Continue reading

Protecting communities through FireSmart

Wildfire in Wood Buffalo National Park

Another busy wildfire season wrapped up in Alberta on October 31. Last year’s mild winter left many areas of the province with little or no moisture, triggering an early start to a season that saw 1,555 wildfires – 400 more than last year.

Mother Nature didn’t help as dry conditions continued throughout summer. In June, a lightning-caused wildfire in northern Alberta grew to over 134,000 hectares, threatening the community of Zama City and forcing more than 300 residents to evacuate. Fortunately, firefighters were able to quickly mobilize heavy equipment to contain the flames and protect the community thanks to a FireSmart plan completed by the community in 2009.

This fire – the largest of the season – still burns today.  Despite cooling temperatures, embers can burn underground for months, re-surfacing in the spring as a wildfire.  Crews will keep working until all hot spots are extinguished.

Keep your community FireSmart

Protecting communities from wildfires

Protecting communities from wildfires through FireSmart

We are committed to protecting people and property from wildfire – one way to do this is by empowering ourselves through the FireSmart program. The government will soon announce the allocation of $500,000 in FireSmart grants for projects that reduce the threat of wildfire to Alberta communities.

If you live in a community in the Forest Protection Area, I encourage you to ask your municipal leaders to apply for FireSmart Community Grant funding next year.  There are also FireSmart tips and techniques you can use to protect your home and community.

2012 wildfire season statistics

About 70 per cent of this year’s wildfires were human-caused, meaning they were preventable. With over 300 communities in the Forest Protection Area, we are reminded of the responsibility we all share to be good stewards of our forests.

  • 1,555 wildfires
  • 377,355.37 hectares burned (five times the size of Calgary)
  • 70% were human caused
  • 28% were lightning caused
  • 2% are still under investigation

To ensure firefighting resources are available where they’re needed most, Alberta has resource-sharing agreements in place with other jurisdictions across North America, including the state of Jalisco, in Mexico. This year:

  • 184 firefighters were sent to British Columbia, North West Territories, Yukon, Ontario, Quebec, Montana and Idaho; and
  • 175 firefighters were brought in to the province from, Ontario, New Brunswick, Yukon, Alaska and Jalisco, Mexico.

Albertans are reminded to continue using caution to prevent wildfires – even over winter. Keep campfires and debris burns small, and always have firefighting equipment on hand.

New: FireSmart grants issued to 16 Alberta communities

Wildfire Airtanker

Wildfire Airtanker

Wildfire Skycrane

Wildfire Skycrane

Making Bragg Creek FireSmart

Boundary Ridge near Bragg Creek A FireSmart plan for the community of Bragg Creek, near Calgary has been approved by my department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

The plan, I believe, strikes a balance of maintaining recreational activities, fire protection and logging in the area. I commend the involvement of local residents and recreational users in developing the FireSmart measures for Bragg Creek while helping protect the great trail system in the area.

It has been a challenging and emotional process and I appreciate the time and energy put into this plan. Since 2007, we’ve had more than 30 consultation sessions including 9 public events and 25 meetings with various groups. The most recent discussions with residents and land users focused primarily on lessening the impact of the FireSmart plan on the Bragg Creek trail system.

At the end of the day, I am confident the plan balances government’s public safety and fiscal responsibilities to all Albertans, and the wishes of local residents to minimize impacts on local recreational uses.

Bragg Creek FireSmart Containment Strategy Map

Containment Map

Bragg Creek FireSmart Plan

The FireSmart plan will create a series of firebreaks on forested Crown land west of Bragg Creek by harvesting timber in an area of historic industrial use now shared with recreational users. Buffers of standing trees will physically separate hiking trails from the areas that are harvested and, where possible, work sites will be accessed by reusing old – and, in some cases, overgrown – industrial roads originally built for logging.

The plan also respects government’s obligation to manage the costs all Alberta taxpayers would have to bear to fight an extreme wildfire in the area. I think of the 2011 wildfire that entered Slave Lake and the devastation it caused. Like other Albertans, I do not wish to see that event repeated anywhere in the province. I also think of how a FireSmart plan helped with firefighting efforts just outside the small northern community of Zama City that was threatened by a wildfire earlier this year.

I’m confident this plan for Bragg Creek is the right plan. I invite you to learn more about the FireSmart plan and the map showing firebreak locations and sizes.

– Diana McQueen, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development