RMWB spent more than $4.1 million reacting to 2023 wildfire season, evacuations

Wildfires this year in the region burned more than 3,643 square kilometres, mostly around the Fort Chipewyan area.

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The municipality spent more than $4.1 million responding to wildfires in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region last summer. Wildfires this year in the region burned more than 3,643 square kilometres, mostly around the Fort Chipewyan area.

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Roughly 1,000 people were able to safely leave Fort Chipewyan when wildfires threatened the community in May. Everyone started returning three weeks later. Many people lost private cabins, but the wildfire stayed out of Fort Chipewyan and nearby reserves. More than 350 people from Fort Smith, NWT and Fort Fitzgerald were flown to Fort McMurray in August and stayed in the city for more than a month.

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“We are very proud of the work the team has done and all the support received from the numerous internal departments and external organizations,” said Erin sieger with the RMWB’s emergency management department to council at their Tuesday meeting.

“We will put effort towards updating our emergency plans to reflect all the valuable knowledge gained through these events.”

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A presentation shown to council broke down the financial costs this past wildfire season had on the RMWB:

  • Fire Fighting and SPU $922,000
  • Air Transportation $805,000
  • O/T Hours $802,000
  • Food $416,000
  • Lodging $412,000
  • Together on the Snye $190,000
  • Pets $152,000
  • Vehicle Rentals $105,000
  • Ground Transportation $91,000
  • Consumables $73,000
  • Security $60,000
  • Fuel $35,000
  • Town Hall Tuesday $30,000
  • Freight $21,000
  • Moving (re-entry) $8,500
  • Damage & Settlement $3,500

Councillor Kendrick Cardinal asked how much longer the RMWB will wait to be reimbursed from different provincial or federal agencies. Jody Butz, fire chief for the region and emergency management director, said this is difficult to know.

As an example, Butz said the RMWB is still getting reimbursed for the 2016 Horse River wildfire. Other municipalities are applying for funding from Alberta’s Disaster Recovery Program (DRP) after what Butz called “an unprecedented wildfire season.”

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“It’ll take as much time as it’s required. I can’t give you an exact timeline, but I know that the the organization is committed to working through the DRP process… to get that reimbursement back to organization,” said Butz.

fort chipewyan wildfire
Firefighters from across Alberta pack fire hoses in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. on Thursday, June 15, 2023. Hundreds of firefighters from across Canada, the United States and Australia responded to a wildfire outside the community, which was evacuated on May 30, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Officials worry about wildfire season in 2024

Wildfires ripped through 22,148 square kilometres of Alberta’s forests. Mayor Sandy Bowman said he hopes spring and summer next year will be uneventful. It’s hard to predict what next year’s wildfire season will look like locally, although federal and provincial officials worry dry fall conditions and minimal snowfall across much of Alberta will turn many of the province’s forests into tinder.

Factors that determine the severity of wildfires in the spring include the amount of snow the province gets over winter, how long it stays on the ground and how quickly it recedes. Alberta’s wildfires are mainly caused by three factors: Dry conditions, human activity and the spring window.

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“So, you think about like Fort McMurray, Slave Lake … all of these types of events (wildfires) have all occurred in the spring, in May essentially. And that’s a real danger period for Alberta. This is actually a relatively dry part of the country,” said Piyush Jain, a research scientist at the Canadian Forest Service.

“So, if you have a dry fall and then the snow comes and it just sits there and then it melts in the spring; the ground is still very dry from the year before. So, that is something that happens a lot in Alberta.”

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