Alberta Parks provides more details on arson investigations

The Alberta RCMP Forestry Crimes Unit has ongoing investigations into 12 suspicious wildfires, supposedly the byproduct of human activity.

Alberta Parks provides more details on arson investigations
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The UCP government has provided more details into its incoming arson investigation to gauge the unusually aggressive wildfire season this year.

Alberta's Forestry and Parks Ministry told True North Wednesday the province investigates every wildfire to determine origin and cause — a role previously held by the Alberta RCMP's Forestry Crimes Unit.

"While we do have investigators in Alberta who are qualified, given the high number of active wildfires so early this season, we required additional support," said Parks press secretary Pam Davidson. The province has already brought in two arson investigators from New Brunswick and two from B.C.

Last week, the RCMP attributed lightning and other 'naturally occurring sources' as the cause for most of Alberta's fires this year. The Forestry Crimes Unit has ongoing investigations into 12 suspicious wildfires, supposedly the byproduct of human activity. 

According to provincial data, 2,600 firefighters have responded to over 560 wildfires that have burned 1,180,000 hectares of land.

"The most area burned for an entire wildfire season was 1.3 million hectares in 1981," said Alberta Wildfire Official Christie Tucker when comparing the abnormal intensity of this year's fire season.

On June 8, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said arson supposedly caused some wildfires. At the time, 175 wildfires had no known causes. 

"I think you're watching as I am the number of stories about arson," said Smith. "I'm very concerned that there are arsonists, and there have been stories as well that we're investigating."

Last year, the RCMP investigated 21 suspicious wildfires the previous year and 40 the year before. Davidson said the investigations ensure "our prevention methods are up to date."

A week after Smith dropped the writ last month, the province declared a provincial state of emergency as the wildfires reached a crisis point.

On May 7, Alberta had 109 active wildfires in the Forest Protection Area, with 28 classified as out of control. The province declared 18 local states of emergency, with over 24,000 people evacuated. Another 52,000 remained under an active evacuation alert.

Smith has activated the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee in response to the province-wide crisis, committing to daily technical briefings until its resolution.

Rebel News asked the Alberta government about the burning exercise amid a fire ban, a prohibition on off-road vehicles, and several declared states of local emergency.

"Prescribed burns are traditionally held earlier in the spring, where we can remove built-up fuels that could be used to draw a wildfire to [a populated area]," said Tucker. "It's a very common practice."

The official told Rebel that prescribed burns achieved several objectives, including mitigating wildfire risk in the Banff and Canmore area this year.

"We have the resources to protect Albertans' health, safety, and well-being without the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Management Act," Ellis told reporters.

The UCP had $1.5 billion in contingency for emergency management to spend on supporting affected residents. How much the Alberta government spent from that budget to counter the wildfires is still being determined.

On June 8, the premier said the province must build better fireguards to reduce the risk of forest fires entering residential areas and cities. 

In November 2019, the UCP scrapped its $1.4 million Aerial Rapattack fire service team, cutting staff from 15 to 30 of the province's 127 wildfire lookout towers. They also decommissioned 26 fire towers, including those in Edson, Fox Creek, and Lac La Biche — areas dealing with out-of-control fires this year.

Smith contends Alberta Wildfire did a 'good job' working with communities this year to accelerate fire guard prevention.

"We're going to have forest fires. It's the nature of what we have in Alberta," she said. "And it's our job as government to make sure that we mitigate, manage, and have the resources available when they erupt."

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