The Alberta government says it will hire outside arson investigators because it requires additional support due to the unusually early and aggressive wildfire season.
Earlier this month, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced she would hire arson investigators from outside the province due to 175 wildfires having no known causes.
Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen’s office says Alberta investigates every wildfire to determine origin and cause.
“While we do have investigators in Alberta who are qualified, given the high number of active wildfires so early this season we required additional support,” press secretary Pam Davidson told True North.
Investigators will determine if the fire was caused by humans. Determining whether the fire was deliberately set, or arson, is the role of the RCMP or law enforcement. The Alberta RCMP’s Forestry Crimes Unit handles all arson related investigations.
The RCMP announced last week that while the vast majority of Alberta’s fires have been attributed to naturally occurring sources like lightning, the Forestry Crimes Unit is currently investigating 12 suspicious wildfires from this year where human activity is believed to be a factor.
In 2022, 21 suspicious wildfires were investigated. A total of 40 were investigated in 2021.
Fires in Alberta reached a crisis point in early May, just days into the provincial election campaign, and during a time when the provincial firefighters typically undergo firefighting training exercises.
As fires burned across the province’s north, some reports of arson emerged. A May 3 post from the Parkland County Twitter account said its department had responded to four suspicious fires in the preceding five days on Highway 16, less than a 40-minute drive from the provincial capital of Edmonton.
“We are asking residents to report any suspicious behaviour to RCMP by calling 9-1-1,” the county wrote on Twitter.
Davidson said the investigations allow the government to track main causes, emerging trends and ensure “our prevention methods are up to date.”
The government is specifically requesting additional resources, including wildfire investigators, through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre in Winnipeg. The province has already brought in two arson investigators from New Brunswick and two from BC.
Smith also said the government must do a better job of building fire guards so forest fires can’t jump into residential areas and cities. She said the province did a good job of working with local communities and accelerating fire guard prevention.
“We’re going to have forest fires, it’s the nature of what we have in Alberta,” she said. “And it’s our job as government to make sure that we mitigate, that we manage, and that we have the resources available when they do erupt.”