Alberta Wildfire: Shifting the focus  

Alberta Wildfire: Shifting the focus

All photos by the Government of Alberta

A sponsored post by Alberta Wildfire

It is no secret that wildland fires are increasing in frequency, intensity, duration and complexity. How we detect, manage and communicate about them is also changing. We are seeing extreme weather conditions, which are leading to more intense wildfires. Agencies across North America are requesting more and more wildland firefighting resources.

Conferences like the Wildland Fire Canada Conference (WFCC) are essential for agencies, partners and stakeholders to gather and share information and best practices and seek solutions towards our shared objectives.

Alberta continues to explore new technologies to improve our ability to manage wildfires, developing a well-rounded approach that combines innovation with time-tested tactics. While wildfire suppression is top of mind for many, in Alberta we are shifting our priorities. By making a greater investment in wildfire prevention and mitigation we can reduce the frequency and intensity of wildfires on the landscape and save millions in operational costs into the future.

Investing in FireSmart is one example of how we are supporting a mitigation-focused approach. Educational outreach programs such as FireSmart Alberta are critical to wildfire prevention and bringing communities along as part of the prevention effort.

We understand the vital role of prevention in helping offset the demand on wildfire response, and cooperation with our provincial partners in educating the public is key. If we can be stewards of the forest and help to reduce the number of human-caused wildfires, we can reduce the size and complexity of response and recovery. Last year, 67 per cent of wildfires in Alberta were
human-caused and most were associated with the careless use of campfires. Everyone can take simple steps to reduce these preventable wildfires, allowing us to focus more resources where naturally caused wildfires are expected.

Innovation and technology are an integral part of the success of wildfire management programs. We continuously evaluate technology that can improve our practices in areas such as smoke detection, wildfire suppression and wildfire prevention and mitigation. Technologies are tested and evaluated by staff across all areas of wildfire management, who often work with other agencies, to ensure that the result improves wildfire management in Alberta.

Most recently, Alberta participated in a government-wide artificial intelligence initiative that enabled ministries to solicit problem-solving suggestions from external AI service providers. The Alberta Wildfire team developed a prototype suite of algorithms to predict the likelihood of a wildfire occurrence, and the output will enhance our ability to position resources in anticipation of new wildfires.

Timely wildfire detection also contributes to a successful rapid response, limiting the potential growth and power of wildfires. Alberta Wildfire relies on an extensive lookout network, ground and air patrols, a lightning detection network and a public reporting system to ensure swift wildfire detection. Opportunities to improve detection efficiencies are being explored through the use of camera-based detection systems. Along with partners FPInnovations and Alberta Innovates, we evaluated six systems during the 2022 wildfire season, which will help inform if, where, and when camera-based systems can assist wildfire detection in Alberta.

Communication is just as important as our operational response. Alberta Wildfire prides itself on efficient, timely and accurate information sharing. We recently launched the Alberta Wildfire status dashboard, which offers the public a snapshot of the current wildfire situation. It includes up-to-date information about wildfires, including the location, size and suspected cause, seasonal statistics, five-year comparisons, and more. The dashboard has been viewed more than 325,000 times this season, becoming another effective tool to inform the public and stakeholders.

Alberta’s commitment to enhance our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across all areas of wildfire management remains a priority. Diversity within our organization is a strength that we will continue to leverage. We know that this work is ongoing and that there are many ways we can be more diverse and inclusive. We are grateful for the Canadian Interagency Fire Fighting Centre’s leadership on this issue. Alberta Wildfire’s future is one that includes a diverse workforce that is engaged, inclusive and motivated. Strengthening the ties we have with Indigenous communities across Alberta remains a priority for us. Enhancing these relationships and integrating Indigenous perspectives will help bolster our collective awareness, capabilities and capacity to meet the demands associated with managing wildfires.

As we come together for the WFCC from across North America, let’s make the most of this opportunity to appreciate the wide spectrum of voices and perspectives in wildfire. This is a chance for us to learn from each other and find solutions to the many challenges we face into the future.