Emergency coordinators lacking in wildfire-prone communities

Last year, in Alberta’s most troubled area, 25,000 people were displaced from their homes during a record-breaking wildfire season.

In response, Ottawa announced that 48 First Nations in the province will receive funding for an emergency management coordinator. The decision was made despite there being 161 fire emergencies on First Nations across Canada, resulting in 93 evacuations. In British Columbia’s Interior, most of the 54 First Nations still do not have anyone in the position of emergency coordinator.

Some suggest that emergency management coordinators are essential to ensure a smoother and better organized community response and recovery should a disaster strike. Reporting on the latest wildfire season, Canadian National Observer discussed the importance of this role with Andrea Stelter, Skwlāx te Secwepemcúl̓ecw emergency program coordinator.

A screenshot of the federal government’s fire weather index.

He explained how he sought funding that allowed him to obtain training and more firefighting equipment and developed plans to protect culturally important artifacts. His strategy also protected important IT and computing infrastructure for band workers, allowing the First Nation administration to get back to work on rebuilding quickly. He also assisted with damage assessment following the wildfire that destroyed 34 structures in Skwlāx.

“When I took on this position two years ago, I wanted to demonstrate the difference in recovery … that happens when you have someone dedicated to this position,” Stelter said in a previous interview.

First Nations without the post are not so lucky. Many of them rely on administrative staff who need to work on emergency management and preparedness while also applying for essential grants from their desks, Stelter said. Canadian National Observer.

James Moxon, director general of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), said Canadian National Observer at a press conference that only 13 of British Columbia’s 203 First Nations have a coordinator position supported by the ISC. Moxon also said there was a coordinator in the Yukon.

The last wildfire season displaced 68 per cent of the Northwest Territories’ population, including several First Nations. The K’atl’odeeche First Nation, for example, was evacuated twice; the first evacuation took place after Mother’s Day.

“When I took on this position two years ago, I wanted to demonstrate the difference in recovery … that happens when you have someone dedicated to this position,” Stelter said in a previous interview.

Canadian National Observer He asked how many emergency coordinators there were in the Northwest Territories, but the department did not return in time for publication.

So far, the start of the 2024 wildfire season looks better than last year; however, the risk remains high due to drought conditions across Western Canada. The Canadian Interagency Wildfire Center reported that as of noon Thursday there were about 90 fires, including 12 classified as out of control.

Just over 176 square kilometers have burned so far, said Julienne Morissette, director of wildfire research at Natural Resources Canada. The figure is well below the 25-year average of 510 square kilometers.

Screenshot of slides from a media briefing update on this year’s wildfire season.

Morissette points to colder weather, a longer thaw and more precipitation than last year. However, higher temperatures on the horizon, coupled with drought, make it possible for fires caused by man and even lightning.

“That’s why we urge Canadians to follow the restrictions of local authorities,” Morissette said.

Of the current fires, 40 are burning in Alberta, 24 in British Columbia and 10 in Manitoba. Four fires in New Brunswick are the only ones in Atlantic Canada, while Ontario has two and Quebec one.

— With files from Mia Robson / The Canadian Press

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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