By: Luke Jones, Published on February 18, 2017 10:05 AM, Last Update on March 1, 2017 09:07 AM
Last year, Alberta slashed its wildfire management budget and stirred up controversy and criticism. The decision backfired in the most painful of ways as the Fort McMurray wildfire spread and became the biggest insurance loss in Canadian history. This year, the provincial government of Alberta is not making the same mistake and has announced an improved wildfire management budget for 2017.
Even with an improved budget, it is unlikely the province could have managed Fort McMurray differently, but the event served to highlight how the province must make wildfire management a budget priority.
The blaze claimed a total of 2,302 residents, 1,599 structures, and 15 commercial buildings. The insurance industry was hit for nearly $4 billion, 90,000 residents were displaced for over a month and the city lost $500 million.
Fort McMurray would have happened anyway, but perhaps an increased budget could have improved the management around the event, which was often criticized. In 2016, Alberta made significant cuts to its infrastructure management, cutting the wildfire management budget by $9.6 million and water tanker contracts by $5.1 million.
Learning from its mistakes, this year Alberta has extended its water tanker contracts by 120 days, which will cover the wildfire season beginning March 01.
The government is also enforcing the new Forest and Prairie Protection Act, which prohibits Albertans from abandoning campfires or burning during bans, with increased fines for violators. Corporations can also be fined up to $1 million for fire safety breaches.
To prepare for lazes, the province is readying firefighting equipment across the province to be ready for the wildfire season.