The Alberta Fire Chiefs Association (AFCA) Board of Directors has issued a statement in response to the province's announcement of the wildfire season beginning earlier, as well as the possibility of funding for additional wildland firefighters

In a statement, the AFCA said they will reserve further comments until a provincial budget is unveiled, stating that while they were encouraged by Minister Loewen’s (Forestry and Parks) announcement, concerns remain.

"While we share the Minister’s aspirations, the absence of specific financial commitments in the Minister’s statement raises concerns about the adequacy of funding for these essential wildfire preparedness and response initiatives," the release stated.

The AFCA added that while they understand the budgetary process’s constraints, 'transparent and timely communication regarding funding allocations will be crucial for strategic planning and effective implementation of these measures.'

"The AFCA underscores the importance of cross-ministerial cooperation, as highlighted by the involvement of multiple ministries including Municipal Affairs, Forestry and Parks, Public Safety, and Emergency Services. We advocate for the establishment of a multi-ministry Provincial Fire Service Advisory Committee to foster a holistic and coordinated approach to wildfire management and emergency services in Alberta."

In a previous open letter by AFCA President, Chief Randy Schroeder, he also underlined the need for a Provincial Fire Service Advisory Committee.

On Tuesday, the province announced that the start of the wildfire season was commencing earlier than usual due to the warmer-than-normal temperatures and below-average precipitation in many areas of the province. 

"Declaring the beginning of the 2024 wildfire season provides additional measures to Alberta Wildfire, including the use of the fire ban and restriction system to help reduce human-caused wildfires in response to hazardous conditions," the province stated.

The Minister of Forestry and Parks also said that his ministry would be seeking funding for 100 additional wildland firefighters, though this request is pending the passing of the province's budget next week. According to Minister Loewen, the additional firefighters would bring the total to 900 for the 2024 wildfire season. However, the AFCA said that even this may not be enough. 

"Minister Loewen’s announcement of 900 wildfire firefighters by April 15 is a step in the right direction; however, we are apprehensive that this may not suffice or be soon enough. In the event of a major fire threatening a community outside of the forested protected area, it leaves it up to the municipalities solely seek out and carry the financial burden of additional contractors or pulling resources from neighbouring municipalities, which jeopardizes the assisting community’s ability to be ready for their own emergency events."

While the AFCA said they were happy with the commitment of the province to to improve and enhance the FireSmart program and its potential to mitigate wildfire risks, this too, according to the province's Fire Chiefs is lacking.

"We express concern over the lack of specifics regarding the extent of support and resources that will be allocated to this critical initiative. Compared to similar programs in other provinces, Alberta’s FireSmart program requires significant expansion and resource allocation to meet the province’s unique needs effectively."

Alberta's provincial budget for 2024 will be announced later next week. Little is known about specifics, though in a televised address on Wednesday, Premier Smith said that she does not foresee budget cuts this year.

"Lower resource revenues will certainly require us to show more restraint than previously predicted. We will ensure this is done thoughtfully and with priority given to the programs and services Albertans most rely on," Premier Smith said. 

In 2023, a total of 1,094 wildfires burned 2,214,957 hectares.

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