Canada: Union says unstaffed wildfire lookout towers leading to undetected fires

Source(s): CBC/Radio-Canada
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By Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell

Alberta's largest union says several recent wildfires were undetected for up to a day, increasing the threat to public safety and property, because arbitrary interim pay rules have resulted in unstaffed fire lookout towers, including in high fire-hazard areas.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said up to 10 lookout towers are not staffed at any given time because the province's new employment code, enacted under the former NDP government, requires staff to take a mandatory day off.


Alberta's wildfire season has again spawned massive blazes that have forced the evacuation of thousands of residents, burned down houses in remote communities, and destroyed more than 300,000 hectares of timber. The Chuckegg Creek fire near High Level, now the largest wildfire in the province, is nearly 2,800 square kilometres in size and remains out of control. High Level is about 750 kilometres north of Edmonton.


Not staffing lookout towers increases the risk of out-of-control fires, [John Clough, who worked as a wildfire lookout observer for 29 years,] said. Lookout observers are trained to detect wildfires before they grow larger than one-hundredth of a hectare.


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