Alberta Bringing in Outside Arson Investigators to Probe Wildfires

Alberta Bringing in Outside Arson Investigators to Probe Wildfires
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at a press conference after the speech from the throne, in Edmonton on Nov. 29, 2022. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

Premier Danielle Smith says her government will bring in arson investigators from outside Alberta to trace the cause of wildfires that have been plaguing the province of late.

“I’m very concerned that there are arsonists,” Smith told podcast host Ryan Jespersen on June 8. “And there have been stories as well that we’re investigating, and we’re bringing in arson investigators from outside the province.”

Jespersen had asked the premier how she would reconcile her government’s energy policies with what “every expert” he spoke to indicated—that “climate change is playing on our susceptibility to wildfire.”

“I think you’re watching, as I am, the number of stories about arson,” said the premier.

In May, a 29-year-old man named John Cook was charged with 10 counts of arson after a series of wildfires and blazes in and around Cold Lake, Alberta, according to the RCMP. On June 7, the Toronto Sun reported that the Quebec police are investigating a possible case of arson in the early forest fires in that province.

Smith said there are almost 175 wildfires in Alberta with no known cause at this point.

‘[To] have 175 fires that we don’t know the cause of—that’s unusual.”

Alberta has had an unprecedented start to its wildfire season, with fires scorching more than 10,000 square kilometres of forest since March.

On May 6, the province declared a state of emergency after multiple wildfires forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate from their homes. By the night of June 3, the government ended the order after assessing that the situation had “improved significantly.”

Massive Forest Fires

Jespersen questioned Smith’s response, arguing given the “massive degree” of the fires, even if there was arson it doesn’t qualify as a primary cause.

“We’ve had wildfire experts on the show telling us that arson is not a leading cause of wildfires based on the science,” he said.

Smith admitted that her party has to do a better job as a government in making sure it is building fireguards.

“I think that the issue that we had faced is that there’s a lot of communities that we know, from what happened in Slave Lake and what happened in Fort McMurray, you have to make sure that when a forest fire begins that it doesn’t jump over into a town or a city because that’s when you end up with real trouble,” she said.

She stressed that forest fires of massive scale had happened in her province before.

“If I can point to the fact that we have had previous fire seasons, early in this century, where 1.3 million hectares were burned. We’re going to have forest fires. It’s the nature of what we have in Alberta.”

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.