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Fort McMurray embraces plan to bolster wildfire prevention in region

January 31, 2018   by The Canadian Press

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. – Lawmakers in Fort McMurray have approved a plan to help prevent destructive wildfires such as the one that ravaged the community in 2016.

Builders work on a new home in the Beacon Hills area after wildfires last year destroyed most of the neighbourhood in Fort McMurray, Alta. Friday, April 21, 2017. The federal housing agency says rebuilding efforts in Fort McMurray, Alta., are going faster than expected, with reconstruction underway on one-third of the homes destroyed in last year’s wildfires. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council says the five-year mitigation strategy includes a more robust fire prevention program.

The plan calls for more tree and brush clearing and for residents to remove any combustible material within 1.5 metres of homes.

The fire that roared through the region in May of 2016 forced more than 80,000 people from the area and destroyed almost 2,600 dwellings.

A report on the fire released last year said a blizzard of blazing embers blew over fireguards and a river to ignite fires in residential neighbourhoods.

The flames burned dry grass, leaves, pine needles, fences, patio decks, wood piles, evergreens and ornamental shrubs that were too close to homes.

The municipality says having a more robust FireSmart strategy was one of the recommendations in a KPMG report on the fire.

“The strategy outlines 15 practical, operational and outcomes-based approaches to mitigating the threat of wildfire in our region,” Fire Chief Jody Butz said in a release Tuesday.

“We’re committed to working with residents and stakeholders as we weave FireSmart into the fabric of our community.”

The region has already completed tree and brush clearing on 1,300 hectares and plans to clear another 867 hectares.

But Butz said for the strategy to really work homeowners have to pay attention to their property.

“The most important and effective action you can take to help keep your home, and your neighbours’ homes, safe is to clear away any combustible material within 1.5 metres of your home,” he said.