Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Alberta Trying to Whitewash Fort McMurray Wildfire Details: Opposition Leader

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Alberta Trying to Whitewash Fort McMurray Wildfire Details: Opposition Leader

Article excerpt

Opposition leader calls for inquiry into wildfire

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EDMONTON - Alberta's Opposition leader says the government is attempting to whitewash the findings of two probes into the Fort McMurray wildfire disaster.

Brian Jean, of the Wildrose party, says the lives of tens of thousands of people were put at risk because the government wasn't ready to fight the fire properly and was slow to respond.

"It wasn't until local officials sounded the alarm and implemented a hurried and terrifying mandatory evacuation that only by the grace of God was successful," a visibly emotional Jean said Friday.

"It wasn't until that point that the provincial government treated the situation as the serious emergency that it was."

Jean, who represents the region in the legislature and lost his home in the flames, is calling for a judge-led independent public inquiry to get more answers about what happened.

The Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives accused the government of not releasing the reports, including one that was ready in March, quickly enough.

"We need answers and these reports leave too many questions unanswered," Jean said.

One report by MNP cites communication breakdowns in the early days of the fire in May 2016 as it swept into the municipality and forced more than 80,000 people to flee.

It recommends the government should be ready to respond to wildfires earlier in the season and better co-ordinate firefighting efforts when flames threaten communities.

The report notes that a specially trained and equipped wildfire team that was formed after the 2011 wildfire in Slave Lake, Alta., was sent to Fort McMurray to help, but it wasn't used and left the area early.

Problems with radios prevented municipal and provincial fire crews from communicating with each other and with air tankers.

A report by KPMG recommends the government review how it manages emergencies and that it spend more money to prevent and prepare for wildfires.

It notes that about $153,000 was spent in the Fort McMurray area on FireSmart activities such as brush clearing in the year before the fire, which caused more than $3. …

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