Mounties take over Slave Lake fire investigation

The Government of Alberta has turned over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) copies of all files and reports from its investigation into the wildfire that swept into the Town of Slave Lake on May 15.

“Our investigation into the origin of that fire ruled out everything but arson as a probable cause,” Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) Minister Frank Oberle said. “As a result, we have delivered our findings to the RCMP to determine if a criminal investigation is the next step.”

SRD identifies the cause of all wildfires that occur in the province’s Forest Protection Area (FPA) and investigates those believed to result from human activity. About half of the approximately 1,600 wildfires that typically ignite in the FPA each year are caused by lightning strikes; the other half arise from human actions such as unattended campfires, debris burning and industrial activity like gas flaring or slash burning.

The investigation of the cause of the Slave Lake wildfire took five months to complete and involved extensive onsite and offsite work to gather evidence according to internationally accepted standards for wildfire investigations.

“Our investigation took the time required to protect, collect, analyze and document evidence to the rigorous standards required for presentation in a court of law,” Oberle said.

The fire that burned into the Town of Slave Lake and nearby Poplar Estates was one of 45 to strike the Lesser Slave Lake Area between May 13 and 16. The 4,700-hectare fire began southeast of the Town on May 14, caused its 7,000 residents to be evacuated and eventually destroyed about 400 structures, mostly homes.

The wildfire caused an estimated $700 million in damages – the second-most-costly insured-damage disaster in Canadian history, behind the Quebec ice storm of 1998.

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