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Union accuses Alberta government of being unprepared for 2024 wildfire season


Riley Moskaluk left Alberta for British Columbia two years ago, but not because there's more work for him battling wildfires.

Rather, the passionate firefighter who's been battling blazes on the front lines since 2016 says what he believes is a long-term, proactive approach taken by B.C.'s wildfire management is what spirited him across the Rockies in 2022.

"They were doing the opposite of Alberta: They were investing more money into their programs and their crews," Moskaluk told CTV News Edmonton on Friday, listing the "long-term" appeal in B.C. of more jobs, full-time positions, health benefits and training opportunities.

"It made a lot of sense for me to make the swap."

Moskaluk talked to CTV News Edmonton a day after Alberta's largest union raised the alarm over wildfire staffing levels in the province, saying the Alberta government is putting people in danger for the upcoming wildfire season by failing to hire and retain enough staff.

James Gault, a vice president with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), told CTV News Edmonton on Friday his union's main concern is that the province "isn't ready for a fire season."

"It's clear something is going to happen in the province, so why not have forward thinking and deal with it today compared to try and deal with it three months from now," Gault said.

"In May of last year, we were already in a state of emergency, and we had rain, we had snow, we had cold and we only had about six to 10 underground fires.

"We have 50-odd underground fires right now. We have no snow. We basically have no rain and we have warm weather. We know, based on those facts alone, it's going to be a horrible season."

AUPE says Alberta Wildfire typically brings on 400-500 staff for the spring, but Gault said he believes the province is poised to miss that mark and won't be able to train newly hired firefighters properly.

"We have asked, the fire chiefs have asked, numerous organizations have asked for pretty much an idea of what their plan is, and their plan is nothing," Gault said.

"Our belief would have to be that the plan would be to allow whatever happens (to) happen, to get the crews out, and then bring in 4,000 people like we did last year to try and stop the wildfires."

Preparations for the 2024 wildfire season are underway, said a statement this week from the office of Todd Loewen, Alberta's minister of forestry and parks, adding that firefighter hiring and training "are on schedule."

"This year, Alberta Wildfire has used an Expression of Interest process to secure positions for returning seasonal staff from the previous wildfire season, ensuring we have experienced staff on the front lines," the statement said.

"Alberta Wildfire has also piloted a speed interview process for hiring wildland firefighter crews. In the 2024 wildfire season, wildland firefighters will start earlier and be given the opportunity to work later in the season if conditions require it." 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson Top Stories

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