There was a lot for local fire departments to learn from the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray. Firefighters helped out in emergency operations centres in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Edmonton, as well as High Level to help with a fire there in May. Deputy Fire Chief for the County’s Regional Fire Service Dan Verdun says one takeaway from the experience is the need to know everyone’s whereabouts.
“That’s one thing that took us a little while there, just working in the REOC, to get a grasp of how many firefighters are there, what they were doing and where they were. For us as a region moving forward, we realized that that’s a priority, because it all boils down to the safety of our manpower when they’re in an event such as that.”
A joint EOC was also run out of Grande Prairie for two weeks in partnership with the County, Wembley, Beaverlodge, Sexsmith and Hythe. City Fire Chief Dan Lemieux says they also came across issues when it came to the large amount of people who wanted to help.
“A lot of people self-deployed to Fort McMurray, so all of a sudden you have dozens, sometimes hundreds of people show up with good intentions that want to assist, but you have to be able to manage that all that also. I think we’ve got better systems, or at least we’re working on better systems in Grande Prairie so that we can manage that piece of it.”
As all of Alberta and Canada watched firefighters battle the wildfire that forced the evacuation of 80,000 people from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, many were left wondering whether the same disaster could happen here in the Grande Prairie region. Lemieux says that the land surrounding the city means there’s less of a risk.
“If you look at an aerial photo map of the Fort McMurray area, you can see that there’s a lot of dense forest right up against some of the neighbourhoods. We have a little bit of that south of Grande Prairie, however, we don’t have as big of an issue because we have a lot of agricultural land surrounding our municipality.”
Verdun adds that the fire service regularly takes part in Fire Smart activities. Those include public workshops and clearing areas damaged by pine beetles.
“You can start by FireSmarting your own properties, which is removing deadfall and what we refer to as wicking… those fuel loads that would allow that fire to move towards your property to your structure. So those strategies are a really good starting point.”
A pair of FireSmart Community Champion Workshops are being held at the Entrec Centre at Evergreen Park this weekend. People living in areas that are prone to wildfires are encouraged to come get information on how to reduce their risk.
The first session will run Saturday, October 15th, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. County Fire Marshal Ken Atamanchuk says there’s a maximum of 20 participants for each work shop, so people interested should sign up by emailing a form that can be downloaded online to [email protected] or dropped off at the Community Services Building.