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RMWB plans to implement wildfire review recommendations

Smoke from the May wildfire seen from downtown. NKS Photography. Used with permission.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) has committed to building a stronger, more resilient community.

On Thursday an extensive report by KPMG called, Lessons Learned and Recommendations from the 2016 Horse River Wildfire, was released.

The report looks at the municipality’s response to the wildfire and recovery.

It identifies 14 recommendations where the RMWB can improve and it suggests changes to the emergency management system.

The municipality has committed to implementing all of the recommendations.

“We have an opportunity right now to become more resilient as a community,” said Mayor Melissa Blake. “This means more than ticking off a few checkmarks. It is a state of mind that should influence everything we do.” 

The report suggests emergency leaders should take more training, pass on their knowledge to staff and use a command system to better co-ordinate how a disaster is managed.

“There are some hard truths that have emerged throughout this process, however we are accepting these truths and embracing them as catalysts to change,” said Fire Chief, Jody Butz.

Both the municipal and provincial reviews of the wildfire determine there was a breakdown in communication between the RMWB and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

Specifically in the municipality’s review, it says, “Unified command was never fully established. Interviewees indicated that discussions were had on both sides about co-location of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and RMWB command, however each party remained in disparate incident command posts.”

“If we arrived at a common understanding of the situation earlier, the timing of the May 3 mass evacuation may have been different,” said Butz.

The report also noted the successful evacuation of 88,000 by using contraflow lanes.

KPMG engaged with stakeholders, over 120 individuals representing the RMWB and emergency management, 1,000 lived experiences from residents, businesses and nearby First Nations and Metis communities.