Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is facing pressure from the media as they continue to blame ‘climate change’ for the increase in wildfires this year. During an interview with CTV, Smith was repeatedly asked if she saw a connection between the abnormal wildfires and environmental calamity. However, Smith emphasized that 500 out of the 650 fires in the province were human-caused and stressed the importance of not contravening fire bans to avoid accidental fires.
According to the Alberta government’s Wildfire Status Dashboard, the province has recorded 973 wildfires this year, compared to 829 wildfires last year. The intensity of the wildfires also surpassed the previous provincial record with 1,400,021 hectares burned, beating the previous record of 1,357,000 hectares burned in 1981.
Smith maintained that wildfire season happens every year and said, “We have to [ensure] that we’re managing and mitigating and [educating] the public about their role in causing those fires.” The UCP revoked the provincial emergency on June 6, downgrading the crisis to a level three emergency. Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mile Ellis stated that they have the resources in place to protect the health, safety, and well-being of Albertans without the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Management Act.
The UCP had $1.5 billion in contingency for emergency management to support affected residents. However, the exact amount spent by the Alberta government to counter the wildfires is still being determined.
Arson was identified as the cause of some wildfires, while lightning and other naturally occurring sources were attributed to most of Alberta’s fires this year, according to the Alberta RCMP. Smith acknowledged that Alberta Wildfire did a good job working with communities to accelerate fire guard prevention but admitted that more work needs to be done to reduce the risk of wildfires entering residential areas and cities.
In November 2019, the UCP scrapped its $1.4 million Aerial Rapattack fire service team and reduced staff at wildfire lookout towers. As of now, 84 wildfires are burning in Alberta’s forest protection area, with two considered out of control.
The RCMP has been investigating suspicious wildfires, with 21 in 2022 and 40 in the previous year. Alberta Parks spokesperson Pam Davidson stated that these investigations ensure that prevention methods are up to date. Due to the high number of active wildfires this season, the province has brought in additional support, including two arson investigators from New Brunswick and two from British Columbia.
Smith expressed concern about the number of stories about arson and confirmed ongoing investigations into arson cases. She emphasized the need to address the issue of arsonists and take appropriate actions.
Overall, Smith maintains that while wildfire season is an annual occurrence, efforts must be made to manage and mitigate the risk of fires and educate the public about their role in preventing wildfires.