Alberta hired an additional 200 wildland firefighters this year

An Incident Management Team developed a response plan for the COVID-19 pandemic

fire camp in Alberta
A fire camp in Alberta. Photo by Alberta Wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire has hired an extra 200 firefighters for the 2020 season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their objectives in wildfire suppression remain to contain the spread of a fire spread by 10:00 a.m. the following day, and to initiate suppression before the fire exceeds two hectares (4.9 acres) in size.

Like their counterparts in the United States, the agency tasked an Incident Management Team to develop a response plan to ensure they can safely and effectively manage wildfires during the pandemic. They reviewed how the agency fights wildfire and adopted best practices on physical distancing, hygiene, travel, and isolation.

All firefighters will complete a screening form prior to starting each shift.

Special procedures have been established for fire camps:

  • There will be greater availability of hand washing stations at all wildfire facilities.
  • Surfaces in washrooms and common areas will be cleaned more frequently.
  • The number of people gathering in one location will be limited (for example: outdoor dining will be encouraged).
  • Physical distancing measures will be observed where possible. Training will be conducted by webinar and in smaller groups rather than in one large central location.
  • Buffet-style meals will be discontinued. Food will instead be plated and served, or individually bagged.
  • Staff quarters will be reduced to single room occupancy in permanent camps or single occupancy tents.
  • The use of contracted camps, hotels and tents will be increased to supplement our operations when needed.
  • When traveling in vehicles and helicopters, where physical distancing is not an option, additional precautionary measures will be taken, including ensuring all parties wear appropriate facial covering/non-medical masks.
  • New protocols will ensure equipment and frequently-touched surfaces in vehicles and helicopters are sanitized regularly.
  • Camp contractors must meet new requirements to protect staff. This includes requirements for meal service and cleaning, as well as providing additional facilities and equipment as needed to reduce the risk of contamination.
  • The health of staff will be monitored regularly and those suspected of infection will be immediately isolated and treated.

A fire ban was introduced in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta as well as in Alberta Provincial Parks to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires and help firefighters focus on existing wildfires. An off-highway vehicle restriction was also introduced using a phased approach based on hazard. The fines for not complying with a fire ban or OHV restriction were doubled, to further reduce the number of human-caused wildfires.

Alberta firefighters social distance
Photo by Alberta Wildfire.

In addition to these deterrents, the Government of Alberta announced an investment of $5 million to create an extra 200 firefighting positions. An additional $20 million in FireSmart funding was announced to go towards projects that will reduce the risk to communities caused by wildfire.

The English Fire burns over 71,000 acres east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

47 kilometers east of Prince Albert

map English Fire Prince Albert Saskatchewan
The map shows the location of heat detected by a satellite on the English Fire in Saskatchewan from May 8 through 4:18 a.m. CDT on May 18.

A wildfire named “English” by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment has burned over 71,000 acres (28,800 hectares) 30 miles (47 km) east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. GPS perimeter data was collected by the agency on May 16. The fire has been burning since May 8.

From Global News at 12:42 p.m. May 18, 2020:

The Saskatchewan government issued two wildfire alerts for communities northeast of Prince Albert on Sunday.

The alerts apply to the RM of Garden River the RM of Torch River specifically.

According to the government website the advisories were issued because of “wildfire[s] that [have] serious potential to cause emergency situations for the public.”
It said fires are burning in Fort a la Corne Forest and along the southwest edge of the Torch River area.

Residents in both rural municipalities are asked to “prepare and be ready to take action should an evacuation be required.”

The advisories say residents in Meath Park, Weirdale, Smeaton, Snowden and Shipman should close doors, windows and vents.

Increasing fire weather severity expected to bring extreme conditions to areas of Canada’s western provinces

Conditions in June and July are expected to be well above average.

Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast May, 2020

Forecasts are showing that fire weather severity in the western provinces of Canada will be increasing in May, and by June will be in the Extreme category in large areas of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Northwest Territories.

Conditions in June and July are expected to be well above average, according to data from the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System provided by the Canadian Meteorological Centre, a branch of Environment Canada.

Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast June, 2020 Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast July, 2020

The outlook for wildfires this spring in British Columbia

BC Wildfire Service is expecting average wildfire activity this spring

BC Spring Wildfire Outlook
British Columbia Wildfire Service

The British Columbia Wildfire Service is expecting a spring wildfire season that will be consistent with long-term patterns in the province, considering the current forecasts and fire activity levels. The outlook issued by the agency on April 9, 2020 does not predict wildfire activity in the summer of this year.

Satellite photo British Columbia April 15, 2020
Satellite photo of British Columbia at 9 a.m. PDT April 15, 2020. NOAA.

Statistics from the BC Wildfire Service for the six year period from 2012 through 2017 show that of the ten largest fires, six were discovered in July, and one each in April, May, June, and August.

largest wildfires British Columbia 2012 - 2017
The ten largest wildfires in British Columbia, from 2012 through 2017. BC Wildfire Service.

Alberta to hire 200 additional wildland firefighters

The government will also fund $20 million in community FireSmart initiatives to prepare for fire season during COVID-19

firefighters Chuckegg Creek Fire
File photo of firefighters on the Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta, May 27, 2019. The fire burned more than half a million acres. Photo: Alberta Wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire is hiring 200 additional firefighters, invoking a fire ban, implementing off-highway vehicle restrictions, increasing fine violations, and funding $20 million more in community FireSmart initiatives, all to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season during COVID-19.

Alberta Parks is also instituting a fire ban in all provincial parks and protected areas.

Alberta Wildfire said these early preparedness measures will ensure the province can effectively focus resources where they are needed most in the event of multiple emergencies happening at the same time.

Typically, the wildfire hazard is highest in Alberta in late April through May, when trees and shrubs have extremely low moisture content after the snow has melted.

More than a million acres burned last year and 71 per cent of wildfires were human-caused and entirely preventable. With provincial resources currently stretched due to COVID-19, these preventative measures will better equip Alberta’s response to spring wildfires this year.

Increased firefighting resources
An additional $5 million investment is being made to hire and train 200 firefighters to assist with provincial wildfire suppression this season.

More than 800 seasonal firefighters will join 370 year-round staff at Alberta Wildfire. These resources are hired at one of the 10 Forest Areas, and are moved throughout the Forest Protection Area as required.

Conversely, the five federal United States agencies with wildfire responsibilities have not announced any major new initiatives that would significantly increase the number of firefighting or fire prevention resources.

U.S. and Canada send additional firefighters to Australia

Canadian fire authorities expect to have 87 firefighters in Australia by January 4

BLM fire employees en route Australia
18  BLM fire management employees were en route to Australia January 1, 2020. Photo via @BLMUtah.

UPDATED at 10:15 a.m. PST January 2, 2020

As we learn about other firefighters from North America traveling to Australia, we will post the information here.


Canadian firefighters Australia
Wildfire personnel from Canada arrived in Brisbane, Australia December 31, 2019. Photo by Canada Down Under.

Originally published at 3:07 p.m. PST January 2, 2020.

Both the United States and Canada have sent additional firefighters to assist with wildfires in Australia after the first wave of 42 arrived down under around December 5, 2019. Another 40 or so arrived before Christmas and both countries are now working out the logistics to deploy more personnel.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise announced on their Situation Report December 27 that a total of 32 fire personnel had been deployed to Australia from the United States.

From CBC.ca, December 30, 2019:

Stephen Tulle, duty officer with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, said a group of 15 set out for Queensland Monday, while another 21 will fly out later in the week.

The contingent of Canadian wildfire specialists stationed in Queensland and New South Wales will reach 87 by Jan. 4, he said.

This is the first time Canada has made a co-ordinated effort to send firefighters to Australia, although crews from Down Under have visited here and were vital in helping British Columbia handle widespread wildfires in 2017 and 2018, Tulle said.

Canadian firefighters AustraliaOn December 31, 2019 Andrew Crisp of the Victoria Emergency Management Commission in Australia, said they have ordered additional fire aviation specialists from US and Canada, and firefighters “who can work in remote and arduous conditions”.

The U.S. is putting together another wave. On December 31 a 20-person hand crew was being assembled on the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. Other firefighters from the U.S. may also be deployed. We will update this article as additional information becomes available.