With a spine of forest running through the city and potentially dry crops on the periphery, Red Deer isn’t immune to wildfires, says the city’s chief of emergency services Ken McMullen.
He confirmed that the risk of a wildfire blaze in the city was very high at the end of May, when fires broke out in the woods behind the Pines neighbourhood. Some residents were battling the blaze with their lawn hoses before firefighters arrived to put out flames that were only metres away from some yard structures.
With hundreds of fire evacuees now pouring into Red Deer from Yellowknife. N.W.T. and B.C., everyone in emergency services is very concerned for these people’s communities — as well as for what the future will bring as Canada suffers its worst wildfire season in history, McMullen added.
With more climate emergencies expected in future, the local fire risk is always being assessed; “It changes on a daily basis,” said McMullen, who believes cooler weather and rainfall most recently dropped local risk to low to moderate.
Although Red Deer isn’t surrounded by forests, woods do run throughout the city’s parks system. And McMullen said grass and crop fires “happen all the time” on the city’s periphery, so there’s always a need for vigilance.
He noted the grass fires can also spread quickly — no one can outrun them — although it’s easier to get firefighting equipment into fields, where there’s also less also fuel to burn up.
McMullen believes some things can be done to reduce fire risk to property. He noted Red Deer parks workers are being proactive by identifying areas of high risk, and then removing dead fall where possible.
While some fallen trees are impossible to remove — such as a whole slope of blown-down tree trunks in Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary — McMullen believes Red Deer EMS is as prepared as it can be for the potential for wildlands fires, which can be caused by human error, lightning strikes, sparks from trains, and “every imaginable cause.”
The City of Red Deer’s 200 firefighter/paramedics train in fighting grass or forest fires as part of their annual training exercises, he added.
As well, the city has partnership agreements with Red Deer County, Penhold, Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake and Lacombe fire departments, which can provide members to help out, if needed. “We will continue to keep (fire management) as a priority and support it as we have to,” said McMullen.
During Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Ken Johnston expressed confidence in Red Deer’s preparedness — both to accept evacuees and for local emergencies. “We are not a perfect city, but we are as close to perfect as you can get when it comes to emergency management,” he said.