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Alberta Wildfire budget increased this season, gets access to $2B contingency fund

Alberta Wildfire will have an extra $55 million for fire preparedness, prevention, response and mitigation over the next three years.

It’s part of a $151 million increase over three years announced in the UCP’s 2024 budget for Alberta Forestry and Parks.

“That’s welcome news and is allowing us to do a lot of great things when it comes to fighting wildfire,” Todd Loewen, Alberta’s forestry and parks minister said during a news conference at the Grande Prairie Wildfire Warehouse.

He said the extra cash will mean hiring an additional 100 wildland firefighters.

“It’s one of the best years for recruiting,” Loewen said. “I think we’re in the process right now of recruiting for the additional hundred but I believe we’re set up and in the process of training all the ones we’ve contracted already.”

They also plan to boost resources including two extra long-term helicopter contracts, two new air tanker contracts, and renew 130 helicopter contracts.

Loewen said more high-tech drones will be used this season to provide real-time information to decision makers about where to send resources.

“Drones are also able to fly over areas that would be too dangerous for piloted aircraft which helps us collect valuable data we otherwise wouldn’t have,” he said.

Night vision helicopter capacity will increase so will the use of Artificial Intelligence on the front-lines.

“The wildfire occurrence prediction system determines the probability of a new wildfire starting in a given area,” said Loewen.

“The wildfire occurrence prediction system can analyze granular data sources to give staff members more specific insights about the regions they make decisions for.”

The costs of actually fighting any wildfires this season will come out of the province’s contingency fund – $2 billion was set aside in this year’s budget.

“The reason why it gets funded by contingency is that it can vary so much,” said Loewen.

“The average fire year might be $200-250 million, I think there’s been some years even just recently below $200 million and so it’s hard to budget based on any kind of average,” he added.

The wildfire season officially starts March 1 in Alberta.

“I want to reassure Albertans that we are prepared for the worst while hoping for the best in the wildfire season ahead,” he said.

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