The Albert government is taking a number of steps to reduce the risk of spring wildfires while protecting municipalities.
Alberta Wildfire is hiring 200 additional firefighters, invoking a fire ban, implementing off-highway vehicle (OHV) restrictions, increasing fine violations and funding $20 million more in community FireSmart initiatives, all to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season during COVID-19.
Alberta Parks is also instituting a fire ban in all provincial parks and protected areas.
These early preparedness measures will ensure the province can effectively focus resources where they are needed most in the event of multiple emergencies happening at the same time.
Typically, the wildfire hazard is highest in Alberta in late April through May, when fuel like trees and grasses have extremely low moisture content after the snow has melted.
More than a million acres burned last year and 71 per cent of wildfires were human-caused and entirely preventable. With provincial resources currently stretched due to COVID-19, these preventative measures will better equip Alberta’s response to spring wildfires this year.
“Albertans are tough and we’re all doing what we can to keep each other safe during COVID-19. With Alberta’s wildfire season matching with the expected peak of COVID-19, we have to take extra precautions to ensure our response efforts are well-funded and planned out. This spring, we may find ourselves facing multiple disasters at once. With all these measures, we will be prepared.” Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
Increased firefighting resources
More than 800 seasonal firefighters will join 370 year-round staff at Alberta Wildfire. These resources are hired at one of the 10 Forest Areas, and are moved throughout the Forest Protection Area as required.
Fire ban and OHV restriction
A fire ban in the Forest Protection Area, provincial parks and protected areas, as well as a recreational OHV ban on Crown land in the Forest Protection Area, will come into effect April 15.
Alberta’s Forest Protection Area covers almost 60 per cent of Alberta, most of the northern half of the province and the western border, excluding federal parks.
The government recognizes that many Albertans use OHVs and respects this valid activity. At the same time, the government must take into account limitations and manage risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hot mufflers can potentially start wildfires.
The fire ban and OHV restriction are temporary measures, which will remain in place only as long as required to combat the wildfire risk. Measures may later be adjusted to take into account the needs of specific regions.
All fire permits will be suspended in this area, and landowners are responsible for ensuring any holdover fires are extinguished by this time.
Indigenous people may use OHVs on public land for traditional purposes. Use of OHVs on private lands, for industrial use (for example forestry, agriculture and energy) and by emergency responders is also permitted.
Fines are being doubled from $300 to $600 for non-compliance with a fire ban and from $600 to $1,200 for non-compliance with an OHV restriction. With 71 per cent of last year’s wildfires started by people, these fine increases reflect the seriousness of the preventative measure Albertans must take to prevent wildfires.
Individuals found contravening a fire ban or OHV restriction will be subject to increased fines, starting April 15, and could be held liable for all costs associated with fighting a wildfire. Last year, more than $600 million was spent fighting wildfires in Alberta.
These fines are in addition to the existing penalties for arson under the Criminal Code.
“Our province is taking steps to prepare for wildfires and other hazards this spring and summer by increasing our emergency response capacity. This means that while we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will also be ready to respond to other emergencies as they may arise.” Kaycee Madu, Minister of Municipal Affairs
Increased FireSmart funding
FireSmart will receive a funding boost of up to $20 million to support vegetation management in the province. The department will work with municipalities to ensure these funds are used this fiscal year.
FireSmart helps to reduce the wildfire risk to Albertans, their homes and communities. The FireSmart program includes grants to support the most at-risk communities in Alberta, including Indigenous communities.
This additional funding will help mitigate wildfire damages and losses in more Alberta communities by creating FireSmart zones around at-risk communities to reduce wildfire hazards.
To increase response capacity and prepare for multiple and concurrent disasters, such as wildfires and floods, the Provincial Operations Centre has been reinforced by the creation of a Pandemic Response Planning Team. This team will help coordinate government’s medium and long-term response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- For more information on wildfires, download the Alberta Wildfire app.
- Up-to-date information on fire restrictions, fire bans, OHV restrictions and general wildfire information is available at albertafirebans.ca or by calling 1-866-FYI-FIRE (1-866-394-3473).
- To report a wildfire, call 310-FIRE (310-3473) toll-free, from anywhere in Alberta.
- Most new seasonal staff will be on-the-ground firefighters, with wages between $22 and $28 per hour.
- Fire bans and OHV restrictions have proven to be effective prevention tools in reducing the number of human-caused wildfires.
- Anyone found to be non-compliant with a fire ban or OHV restriction may also have to go to court and may receive a fine up to $100,000. Anyone found to be the cause of a wildfire may be liable for the costs associated with extinguishing the fire.
- FireSmart is a program that requires cooperation of all people living, working and playing in the forest.
Running Reins Ranch in Red Deer County picks up $250,000 grant from province
Running Reins Ranch partners with members of the local Indigenous community to set-up teepee accommodations and host regular cultural programming for guests.
Tourism investment fuels growth in rural Alberta
Alberta’s government continues to support regional tourism opportunities across the province, generating jobs and new tourism destinations for locals and visitors alike.
Ahead of World Tourism Day 2023, Minister of Tourism and Sport Joseph Schow visited Running Reins Ranch to see first-hand how tourism investment grants are making a difference in the lives of Albertans.
“Alberta’s government is proud to invest in growing visitor destinations like Running Reins Ranch that celebrate the richness and diversity of Alberta’s rural destinations and provide a sustainable tourism experience for visitors to enjoy.”
As part of the Tourism Investment Program, Running Reins Ranch received a $250,000 grant from Travel Alberta.
“Our investment will support the building of additional unique accommodations at the ranch that will triple their capacity, emphasize their year-round offerings and create five new full-time jobs. This investment in Running Reins Ranch is a perfect example of how Travel Alberta is driving tourism growth in rural communities across the province.”
Running Reins is located east of Innisfail, offering cabin and teepee accommodations and a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors looking to combine the beauty of the Prairies with farm experiences for a one-of-a-kind getaway.
Right to Left: Minister of Tourism and Sport Joseph Schow, Owners of Running Reins Ranch Terry and Janice Scott, and team member Grace Finlan.
“This funding is a game-changer for us and our business. We are excited to bring our vision to life and provide visitors with unforgettable experiences while supporting the economic growth of the surrounding community.”
Tourism is Alberta’s No. 1 service export sector. In 2019, Alberta welcomed 34.6 million visitors, generating $10.1 billion in expenditures and supporting more than 80,000 full-time jobs. The Tourism Investment Program is Travel Alberta’s commitment to investing $15 million annually with communities and operators to develop the province’s tourism sector. Developing Alberta’s rural and agri-tourism sector is an essential component of the government’s efforts to grow Alberta’s tourism economy to more than $20 billion by 2035.
- In 2022-23, Travel Alberta funded 166 projects across 73 communities – about 75 per cent of the projects and 70 per cent of the funding were in smaller urban and rural areas of the province.
- In December 2022, Alberta’s government released its Economic Development in Rural Alberta Plan, with supporting initiatives that demonstrate the government’s commitment to building healthy and prosperous communities across rural Alberta and Indigenous communities.
Company at centre of E. coli outbreak at Calgary daycares faces licensing charges
Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange speaks to the media about an E. coli outbreak linked to multiple Calgary daycares in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Colette Derworiz in Calgary
The company that runs a commercial kitchen at the centre of an E. coli outbreak that has infected hundreds at numerous Calgary daycares has been charged with operating without a business licence.
The City of Calgary announced Wednesday that Fueling Minds Inc. and its two directors face a total of 12 charges under municipal business bylaws and face a total fine of up to $120,000.
The company declined to comment on the charges in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Alberta chief medical officer Dr. Mark Joffe said the number of cases has plateaued at 351, and tests and interviews indicate the cause of the outbreak was meat loaf and vegan loaf.
He said there are also 37 confirmed secondary cases and four children remain in hospital.
Fueling Minds provided meals to six of its own daycares that were affected by the outbreak, which was declared Sept. 4, and also to five separate daycares.
The city alleges Fueling Minds did not have the proper licence to serve those other five.
Joffe said the investigation into the cause of the outbreak included interviews with hundreds of parents and daycare staffers and the testing of 44 food samples.
“We believe that meat loaf and vegan loaf meals that were served for lunch on Aug. 29 most likely contained the E. coli bacteria that led to these infections,” said Joffe.
“Unfortunately, neither of these items could be tested as they were either eaten or discarded before this outbreak was identified.
“While we now have a likely source, what we do not know exactly is what was contaminated or how.”
The company’s statement said the “exact source of the infections has not yet been identified” and it continues to work with Alberta Health Services on its ongoing investigation.
Joffe said the province is to hire a third party to verify its work and findings.
Premier Danielle Smith said former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson would lead a panel to investigate what went wrong and make recommendations on how to make commercially prepared food safer in daycares.
Smith said the panel does not have a set timeline, but she expects to hear from him monthly and would implement interim recommendations if necessary rather than wait for the final report.
“Mr. Hanson will be joined by Alberta parents, childcare operators, food service operators, and food safety and public health experts,” said Smith.
“The panel will be examining all aspects of this tragic situation, large and small, as well as taking a full broader look at the legislation and regulations that govern food safety in our province.”
Smith said she met with parents of affected children, and a policy change they suggested was posting kitchen health inspection reports in a daycare rather than just online.
Health Minister Adriana LaGrange and Searle Turton, minister for children and family services, are already reviewing food handling in commercial daycare kitchens.
The kitchen remains closed and in recent months has been flagged for numerous health violations, including food transportation concerns.
Diana Batten, the Opposition NDP critic for childcare and child and family services, said Wednesday’s developments were a good start to getting answers.
“This will really help some of the families I’m speaking with,” she told reporters.
“However, it brings up or illustrates there’s a lot of problems inside the system. We heard Premier Smith talk about how we should trust now that the system is safe. Why? We continue to identify more concerns.”
Batten said a panel isn’t going to help solve those problems.
“It’s just spending more money and, honestly, putting a Band-Aid on what is honestly a huge public health crisis.”
The province has promised parents affected by the closures in the original 11 daycares a one-time payment of $2,000 per child to cover off financial hardship. Those facilities were closed Sept. 4 but have since reopened.
Eight more daycares faced closures or partial closures in the days that followed as secondary cases were identified.
Smith said last week that the compensation program would only be available to parents of the 11 daycares at the root of the outbreak.
Turton, however, confirmed parents affected by the later closures would also be eligible for the one-time payments, and that was the plan all along.
“The program hasn’t expanded,” said Turton.
“It’s important to note that just more daycares since the original announcement have actually become eligible for those payments.”
— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 27, 2023.
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