- Documents and publications
A review of the 2016 Horse River wildfire: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry preparedness and response
This review considers the environmental conditions leading up to and during the Horse River wildfire that started on 1 May 2016 outside Fort McMurray, Alberta, evaluates the readiness and level of preparedness prior to its occurrence, and evaluates the response of the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry department.
The review finds that fire weather and wildfire hazard conditions throughout northern Alberta were severe in early 2016 owing to extremely dry conditions across Alberta in the previous year, low snow pack over the winter and hot and dry conditions in the spring. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry recognized that the early wildfire hazard was very high and took appropriate measures to be prepared earlier than usual. While the department responded to the early spring threat appropriately, the system is not intentionally designed for an early spring startup. The department needs to better address early spring wildfire hazards.
The fire weather forecasting and wildfire science capabilities of the department are strong and were available to support strategic and tactical decision-making and planning. Weather forecasts were accurate, the scientific understanding of the fuel characteristics and burning conditions was sound and fire behaviour modelling was insightful. Enhancements and improvements to how these capabilities can be better incorporated into the planning and operations functions of wildfire management are recommended.
The detection system performed within expectations and initial attack was immediate. Agencies and services involved in wildfire suppression in relation to the Wildland Urban Interface should establish standard operating procedures for the implementation of an Incident Command System (ICS) and processes following the model provided by ICS Canada for future incidents like the Horse River wildfire.