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Agriculture Forestry

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Wildfire Management: Processes for Prevention and Review and Improvement

About this Audit

Every year, an average of 1,400 wildfires occur in Alberta’s forests. The financial impact can be considerable. Aside from the money the province spends on wildfire management ($294 million in fiscal 2017–2018), wildfires can cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, displacing people from their homes and disrupting businesses. The 2011 Flat Top Complex wildfire destroyed 510 homes in Slave Lake and caused $700 million in damage. The 2016 Horse River wildfire forced the evacuation of 88,000 residents from the Fort McMurray region and destroyed an estimated 2,400 structures. To date the Horse River wildfire is the most expensive disaster in Canada’s history, with insured losses of $3.6 billion.

The Department of Agriculture and Forestry has an established wildfire management program to protect the 39 million hectares of forest in Alberta. The department’s wildfire management branch includes provincial headquarters in Edmonton and 10 operational forest areas located across the province. The forest areas coordinate with headquarters to prevent, detect and suppress wildfires in Alberta’s forest protection area.

Five activities comprise the department’s wildfire-management program:

  1. Prevention
  2. Detection
  3. Pre-suppression preparedness
  4. Suppression
  5. Review and improvement

Because the external reviews completed after wildfires in 2011 and 2016, and an exceptionally active 2015 fire season, focused extensively on detection, pre-suppression preparedness, and suppression, we scoped our audit on prevention and review and improvement.

Refer to the table on page 2 for a program summary; see Appendix B for a full description of each component. The areas we focused on for the purposes of this audit are highlighted.

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