A discussion with the incident command team from Clearwater County, Alberta Wildfire, AEMA and Alberta Parks on the Black Mountain Fire.
Many thanks to Clearwater County councillors and staff, emergency response leaders and local businesses for taking the time to have a positive and open discussion about the Black Mountain Fire during a difficult situation.
We covered a number of topics, starting with each business providing an update on how the response to the fire was impacting their operations. Alberta Wildfire, Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services, Alberta Parks and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency then provided information on the situation.
Fire Status Update
There are 4 levels to the classification of fires:
- Out of Control
- Being Held – this is given to fires that are being held based on the current resources, the behaviour of the fire and the weather.
- Under Control – this is given to a fire that, regardless of the resources, behaviour and weather, will not escape.
- Extinguished is when the fire is considered completely out.
The Black Mountain Fire is currently Being Held and if the weather holds it will become under control.
Nordegg is Open
The evacuation orders and alerts are expected to be phased out starting later in the day, given the current conditions. Alberta Parks noted that the campgrounds at Fish lake and Goldeye Lake will be open for the weekend as long as the current conditions hold.
The discussion then focused on how to move forward given that the impact of the fire is localized and the risks to Nordegg are low at the moment. The emergency alerts cannot be changed at this time to show how localized the situation is but clearer communication can help reassure visitors that both Abraham Lake and Nordegg are open and ready to welcome them.
Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake, along with local businesses, will be advertising and posting on social media encouraging visitors to come back. The information provided at the meeting, along with updates from Alberta Wilfire and Clearwater County, will be used to ensure that the messaging is consistent. The only area that will be remaining closed for the time being is Haven Creek and Snow Creek.
A discussion was held around the messaging and the terminology used. From the municipal perspective, they felt that they couldn’t have gotten any more messaging out given the time needed to mobilize the response. The community felt that while the volume of communications was adequate, the terminology used was confusing for those without training in emergency management. This created miscommunications which were amplified due to the fact that there was no local check-in centre where they could go to ask questions (Alberta Wildfire and Clearwater County eventually set up a booth at the Shell parking lot which helped).
The Alberta Emergency Alert system makes some of this more challenging since all alerts are provided at the municipal level using specific terminology. A new system will allow for providing more localized alerts but unfortunately, this will not be in place in the short term. The evacuation levels were further explained to clarify that:
- An evacuation alert means being ready to go in case an order is issued; and
- An evacuation order means that it is now time to go.
This information was added to public updates provided by Clearwater County after this meeting and the feedback we received was very positive.
The Nordegg Community Association and Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake will be the main point of contact working with the Information Officers to get the message out locally.
Clearwater County will put together additional information that can be shared explaining the fire situation, emergency management terminology and additional relevant information. This was done shortly after the meeting and was well received by residents.
Another challenge was around logistics since all restaurants had extra food that could not be used and most lodging partners had empty rooms as a result of the fire response. It was discussed that in general, emergency responders try to avoid contacting local businesses in order to not add to an already stressful situation. It was noted that meals could have been provided locally and we saw some changes with various crews using local services. The logistics department for Alberta Wildfire also contacted some of the local operators the next day to see what would be available if an extended response was required.
We will be working on a communication plan for situations like this where an emergency occurs within the region without impacting the entire region. This will include media training opportunities since businesses are asked for interviews and can help get the information out as needed. Clearwater County does have a plan and we can work with them on this. Alberta Wildfire mentioned that grants and support are also available through AEMA, FRIAA and other organizations. This could include fire smart projects, tabletop exercises and media training. [This is on our agenda to be worked on over the winter months and brought back for discussion at the April 2023 meeting.]
- Jen and Jason Ariano – Expanse Cottages
- Brett Pawlyk – HeLa Ventures + Nordegg Escape
- Sharmane Hindbo – Ram Rides
- Mary Lamb – Maryz Treasures
- Crystie Tarr – Rendered Earth Studio and Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake
- Tanya Koshowski – Nature’s Getaway
- Celine Whiteknife – Beehive Artisans Market, Shell and the Nordegg Liquor Store
- Linda Christensen – Nordegg Community Association and Rockies Heli
- April Feenstra – Miners’ Cafe
- Darryl Dirsten – Frontier Lodge
- Jodi Reynolds – Expanse Cottages (online)
- Lanny Anderson – Goldeye Centre (online)
- Danielle and JP Fortin – Nordegg Adventures and the Nordegg Canteen
- Michelle Metheringham – Rocky Chamber
- Jerry Pratt – Clearwater County’s Economic Development Officer
- Lisa Lima – Travel Alberta (online)
- Brian Boutin – AEMA
- Grant Santo – Alberta Parks – ICS Team
- Evan Stuart – Clearwater Regional Fire Rescue Services – ICS Team
- Todd Lynch – Alberta Forestry – ICS Team
- Christine Heggart – Clearwater County’s Director of Emergency & Legislative Services
- Sabrina Walter – Clearwater County
- Neil Ratcliff – Clearwater County Councillor
- Michelle Swanson – Clearwater County Councillor
- Daryl Lougheed – Clearwater County Reeve