Seasonal wildfire-fighting force cut short in irrational decision
EDMONTON – The Alberta government is cutting short its wildfire-fighting season, even as its own evidence points to a longer season with greater risk to Albertans.
“We should already be up to full speed and at full strength, but the government ordered that the wildfire-fighting season budget cut by about 8 to 12 per cent,” says Mike Dempsey, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), which represents 95,000 workers, including permanent and seasonal government wildfire workers.
“It’s a massive gamble that defies expert advice and puts lives, homes, communities, industries and jobs in peril,” says Dempsey.
“The fire season starts in March, but the government delayed hiring of seasonal firefighters. We are now about 60 workers short in that area, not counting the positions which were cut,” he says.
“Training is also running late, meaning that even if the government manages to fill those vacancies, it could be the end of May before everyone is trained and ready to be deployed. Our firefighters fear that the lack of experienced boots on the ground will lead to fires getting out of control, threatening lives and communities.”
A government-ordered analysis of the 2016 fire season says: “A review of historical date and trends indicates that the fire season in Alberta is becoming longer, is starting earlier and is featuring more frequent periods of extreme weather. Historical data indicates that Alberta now experiences the most wildfires in May and more forest area is burned in May than any other month.”
Dempsey says: “It is completely irrational that this government is ignoring the evidence. In doing so, it is gambling with Albertan lives, homes, communities, industries and jobs.”
May is often the worst month for wildfires. The massive Fort McMurray fire began on May 1, 2016, and destroyed 2,400 homes, forced 90,000 to flee, severely impacted oilsands operations and caused nearly $10 billion in damage. May 2019 saw 301 fires start, with three becoming major wildfire incidents. By the end of that month, a total of 883,414 hectares had been burned.
“Albertans need to ask this government why it thinks this fire season will be shorter and less serious while B.C. is transforming its fire force into a year-round operation,” says Dempsey.
“Why is this government failing to follow the recommendations from its own reviews? Why is it ignoring the evidence and playing with fire?”
AUPE vice-president Mike Dempsey is available for comment.
For information, please contact Terry Inigo-Jones, communications officer, at 403-831-4394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.