The “mayhem” of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire provided valuable lessons being deployed in the fight against the blaze threatening High Level, officials say.
Bruce Mayer, assistant deputy minister in the forestry department, said Tuesday morning those lessons include improved long-term weather trends and co-operative relationships between the province, industry and municipalities.
But the biggest change was around unified command.
“My senior staff are lockstep with municipal senior staff, and they will make one plan as opposed to siloed plans,” Mayer said.
That will include how to fight the blaze and protect structures in the danger zone, and how people will be evacuated.
“The municipalities are evacuating people before there was any mayhem happening similar to what happened in Fort McMurray,” he said.
“For us it’s a huge learning (curve), and I think we’re going to be successful.”
Although the next week is pegged to remain hot, dry and windy in the north — prime wildfire conditions — the good news is there is a big difference between High Level and Fort McMurray.
For a start, authorities are taking wildfire threats a little more seriously since Fort McMurray was devastated in 2016, Mayer said.
The wildfire that caused billions of dollars in damage in the Northern Alberta city three years ago was nicknamed The Beast, due to its size and nature.
While the High Level blaze is considered a category six (the highest rating possible for a fire in Alberta), Mayer said the wind direction is a silver lining.
The Beast was fuelled by westerly winds which fanned the blaze towards Fort McMurray. But in High Level, winds are currently blowing the fire away from the community, and are forecast to stay that way for the time being.
As of Tuesday, 89 fire fighters were attacking the High Level inferno, but the winds and the high intensity of the blaze had them fighting from the flank. Twenty-four helicopters are also assigned to the fire, along with three air tankers.
In addition, 10 structural protection units are also working to wet down homes and businesses, with another 50 trucks and crews marshalled from across the province.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019
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