Home World AMERICAS New report backs effort to resurrect Alberta's wildfire rappel program, say advocates

New report backs effort to resurrect Alberta’s wildfire rappel program, say advocates

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The report, conducted by consulting agency MNP, recommends using helicopters and heavy equipment as a starting point for the analysis.

Adam Clyne, a rappel firefighter impacted by last year’s cuts and a member of the Save The Rappel campaign, says the report shows his program’s benefits outweighed its costs.

“A lot of things that we’ve kind of been screaming from the rooftops this past year were kind of validated in this recent report,” said Clyne. “What we believed from the very beginning is that our cost-benefit analysis would prove that we are more than effective, and more than worth it on the taxpayers’ dollar.”

Patrick O’Callaghan prepares to rappel down from a tower to simulate rappelling from a helicopter into a forest during wildland firefighting training at the Hinton Training Centre run by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development in 2010. Postmedia, file

MNP argues it is difficult to know how much money should be spent on suppression, but found investing in initial attack support saves money in the long run.

Between 2011 and 2018, the average cost of fighting a fire when initial crews arrived on time was $311,202. That nearly doubled to $613,391 when crews arrived late.

“They didn’t allow this study to come through before they got rid of one of their very successful initial attack resources,” said Clyne. “So we’re just wondering what kind of methodology did they use before making the cut.”

Justin Laurence, press secretary for Dreeshen, said the department continues to use various wildfire units including a helitack unit. He said the most recent numbers show 99.4 per cent of fires are caught and contained within 48 hours.

“The rappel program is one of many methods of fighting wildland fires and the decision to eliminate it was made after careful consideration of how best to allocate resources for wildfire management in Alberta,” said Laurence in an email.

Laurence said the government would be acting on all 15 recommendations in the report, some of which will be addressed by next spring.

Those initiatives include enhancing FireSmart practices across the province, and recruiting and training staff across ministries to be deployed on incident management teams. They will also create detailed maps identifying cultural lands, infrastructure and utility corridors around communities.


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