Alberta RCMP investigate several fires for arson

On June 8, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said about 175 wildfires in Alberta had no known cause. 'I'm very concerned that there are arsonists,' she said.

Alberta RCMP investigate several fires for arson
The Canadian Press / Darryl Dyck
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According to the province, several fires between Anzac and Lac La Biche, Alberta, are under investigation for suspected arson.

Between April 22 and May 22, Alberta RCMP initially attributed several deliberately set fires to arson along Hwy 881 between Anzac and Lac La Biche.

"Thankfully, all fires were quickly contained without [losing] structures in the area. The investigation has determined that these fires were set deliberately," said the Alberta RCMP.

In collaboration with Alberta Wildfire, the Alberta RCMP Forestry Crime Unit is asking the public to report any "suspicious activity" from this period as part of their investigation.

Additionally, a Canada Day fire caused significant damage to St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Lac La Biche. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, according to officials.

In June, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced her government would hire out-of-province investigators to gauge whether arson may be involved amid an unusually aggressive wildfire season this year.

On June 8, Smith said about 175 wildfires in Alberta had no known cause. "I'm very concerned that there are arsonists," she claimed. 

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 21, Alberta's Forestry and Parks Ministry told True North they investigate every wildfire to determine origin and cause — a role 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.

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

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."

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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  • By Ezra Levant

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