Hinton’s parents adjust to homeschool teaching

Jace Erickson pictured at his home work station.
Photo submitted by Stephanie Erickson.

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Parents across Hinton are taking on the role as homeschool teachers during the Covid-19 pandemic as lessons resumed last week.

Hinton’s actual teachers have been hard at work, putting together packages of information for classes to help support families through emergency remote teaching and learning. While teachers have been helpful, some parents are just learning to adjust to the new normal of homeschool teaching.

“I’m not a teacher. Right now it’s not bad, but if they were in an older grade, I don’t even know if I could help them anymore,” said Megan Astalos, a parent of two Crescent Valley Elementary School (CVS) students.

One of her kids is in kindergarten, while the other is in Grade 2. Their teachers have emailed Astalos with a lesson plan every day, which they follow, but it hasn’t been all easy. Her kindergartener tells Astalos that she’s not her teacher, and it has been hard at times to focus with so many distractions around.

“Their toys, their games, the TV, playing music, and all that stuff is an easy distraction,” Astalos said.

She explained that she tries to ban the use of any electronics until after lunch to help them focus on school work, which has been helpful. Their school work only takes about an hour every day and the online assignments have been easy to find with the help of the daily lesson plans.

Some of the assignments are still done on paper, which they take a photo of and send back to their teacher. The kindergarten student mostly learns by cutting, colouring, and writing.

The biggest thing Astalos has learned is to be patient, as they are both learning. She said that while she always appreciated teachers, she now appreciates what they deal with every day and how they get a class of kids to focus.

“I struggle getting two kids to focus, I can’t imagine getting a whole classroom to focus. I’m thankful for them and thankful they’re putting stuff together for kids to do at home. It helps fill up our days a little bit too,” Astalos said.

“I’m a little bit lucky because my mom used to be a teacher’s aid, so when I’m struggling I’ll call her and she’ll say try it this way.”

Astalos is also finishing college herself. This allows her to be at home full time with her kids, but it puts some pressure on her own schedule.

Astalos’ daughters pictured with their artwork for schoolteachers they’re missing.
Photo submitted by Megan Astalos

Sarah Olson echoed Astalos’ sentiment, saying that homeschooling her kids has also been a challenge and finding a routine has been difficult. She’s a parent of a  Grade 4 student at Ecole Mountain View (EMV) and a Grade 9 student at Harry Collinge High School (HCHS).

She said the roles of teachers haven’t changed and that they’ve all been open to ideas of parents and acknowledged that this time is a learning experience for everyone.

“I didn’t go to school to be a teacher, I don’t necessarily know how to instruct my own kids how to do things, it doesn’t come with a manual, it didn’t come in a textbook,” she said.

“Navigating the online system the teachers are using is a chore in itself but I know this will come in time.”

Her son in Grade 9 deals with multiple teachers which he receives assignments from every week. Some teachers have set times when they are available for each class, and teachers have used Google Meet to instruct students and answer questions.

“They’re handing out some homework and if they have questions, the kids can email and they can put it right on the stream for the classroom. The teachers seem to be really available for them,” Olson said.

Her son in Grade 4 still listens to the morning announcements and the Canadian anthem as he normally would at school, which are now posted online by the principal and teachers. He then receives his work for the day, which takes him roughly two to three hours every day to complete.

“What we find hardest at home is a consistent schedule. I have taken on a job with a grocery store that has ended up in 40 hours a week and then now trying to juggle a homeschooling schedule,” said Olson, who’s husband also works full-time.

Evenings have been hard for the kids, when they have to finish the work that was assigned to them. Olson added that her kids both need some guidance and directions, and if they’re not being pushed they won’t do the work. Not every parent has the time to make sure their kids are getting their work done, she continued.

Kade Olson pictured with his teacher Deanna Cederstrand and her son during one of their lessons.
Photo submitted by Sarah Olson

Stephanie Erickson, a parent of a Grade 3 student at CVS, has found the whole homeschooling situation mostly frustrating. Fitting a Grade 3 school schedule into a home schedule where Erickson also has a three year old has posed its challenges, though she added that the change hasn’t completely derailed life due to her being a stay-at-home mom.

“I didn’t have to quit my job or find someone to watch them. I was already at home and we haven’t been thrown off too much,” she said.

Erickson said that they are still getting used to the situation and that she feels her frustration is echoed by other parents.

“People shouldn’t pressure themselves to be a homeschool teacher, that’s not what you were ready for,” Erickson said.

In order to home-school, Erickson and her husband bought a chrome book for their son, which is what he uses at school. CVS allows families to borrow the chrome books from the school or families can buy one through the school.

Figuring out how to use the chrome book, where to find the assignments, and which assignments to do has been a challenge, Erickson said.

“Not all teachers are tech-savvy, they weren’t all ready for cyber teaching. I think the teacher as well is trying to figure out how to get the best system,” she said.

Real assignments didn’t start coming until after Spring Break, giving them time to figure out how to tackle the current situation. Ericksons’ son uses a couple online resources for reading and mathematics that tracks his progress.

Erickson prints off some assignments and takes a photo to send back to the teacher.

An app is also available for Erickson to stay in contact with the teacher and other parents. 

“Communication has been good, it’s just trying to figure out how to do most of these assignments and how to get to them and which ones to do because there’s quite a few different online sources,” said Erickson.

While not being able to see their friends has been hard for the kids, the learning curve of teaching has been the most frustrating for parents, Erickson added. 

“It’s funny because I always thought about going into teaching, now I’m not so sure. It’s a hard job and it’s hard to do it at home because there’s different rules,” she said.

Homeschooling isn’t something Astalos will be taking up once schools are back open. When school returns, her kids will be there too, she said. Astalos noticed that one thing that has helped her kids is for them to stay in touch with their friends.

“It helps her focus throughout the day to play games with them online and stuff,” Astalos said.

Olson added that Facetime has been a lifesaver. Her older son also had a chance to talk to his two friends from the front door of their house as they walked by on the sidewalk. The Olsons have been diligent about staying home due to her younger son’s asthma and had serious conversations with both her kids.

“It’s been rough, they haven’t seen a different face for a month,” she said.

Once the kids go back to school in September, each parent was under the impression they would be moving on to the next grade.

“This happened to us as a country, this isn’t just the kids in Hinton, and not just the kids in Alberta. This is all of the kids,” said Olson.

“For a curriculum to maybe shift a little because this happened, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”

Province pledges $53M for mental health supports

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

The Alberta government announced an additional $53 million investment into mental health support to help Albertans cope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These funds will help launch a comprehensive mental health and addictions COVID-19 plan.

Within this plan, $21.4 million will improve access to phone and online supports with existing help lines, including the Addiction Helpline, the Mental Health Helpline, the Kids Help Phone and the Community and Social Services Helpline.

Further supports address family violence, addiction and mental health for Albertans.

Along with new measures this week came further cancellations of big annual events in Alberta with the Edmonton Fringe Festival officially being cancelled.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer for Alberta, said during the April 13 press conference that large public gatherings like the Fringe festival won’t be allowed any time soon.

“I think something like the Fringe Festival, other social gatherings, until we have a vaccine or some other means of ensuring wide-spread immunity, some of these gatherings are going to be the riskiest kinds of activities to engage in,” said Hinshaw. 

“Especially gatherings that bring together people from all over the country or all over the world. So those kinds of restrictions, I would anticipate will be in place for some time.”

Edmonton’s Fringe festival was scheduled to start on Aug. 13 and take place over 11 days.

When Premier Jason Kenney was asked during the April 15 press conference about the Calgary Stampede, which is scheduled to start on July 3, Kenney stated that he would not improvise a response, adding that Alberta needs to see continued success in the fight against COVID.

The only time the Stampede didn’t run was in 1918 due to the Spanish flu, Kenney said.

Earlier this week, the province expanded testing for COVID to anyone in Alberta who has a cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, or sore throat. 

“We have seen from other jurisdictions that have successfully flattened the curve that aggressive testing is essential to controlling the spread,” said Hinshaw.

With the expansion of testing, an increase of confirmed cases is expected every day.

An increase has already been evident over the days prior to the announcement due to previous expansions of testing. While cases will rise, the number of daily confirmed cases as a percentage of the tests done every day has remained around the same throughout the past several weeks, Hinshaw noted.

“When we look at the provincial numbers by the date the swabs were collected, the percentage of tests that have come back positive has been approximately two per cent for the past several weeks,” Hinshaw said.

This indicates that the rate of infection has remained relatively stable over the last while.

Medical experts are also looking at the rate of hospitalizations, which is currently a more accurate indicator of the trend than total case numbers.

Hinshaw added that purposeful testing is key. 

Testing started with returning travellers and expanded to health care workers and anyone with respiratory symptoms admitted to hospital, in continuing care settings, or primary care influenza surveillance sites.

First responders and correctional facility staff were then added before everyone in Calgary with COVID-19 symptoms were included. After all the expansions, labs in Alberta still had the capacity for more testing.

Hinshaw stated that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms needs to stay home and take the AHS online assessment form to arrange testing.

“We will carefully monitor the volume of completed forms and tests that are done, and may need to make adjustments at some point in the future if we have more requests for testing than capacity to perform them,” Hinshaw said.

On April 11, the province announced that Alberta is sending supplies to Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. to help address unprecedented demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators in those provinces.

Those supplies consist of N95 masks, procedural masks, gloves, goggles and ventilators.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta’s modelling indicates the health-care system can handle the peak of the disease. Alberta Health Services (AHS) will have 2,250 acute care beds, almost 1,100 ICU beds, and 760 ventilators by the end of April, said Shandro.

That is more than double the current medical equipment in Alberta. These numbers are more than enough to meet the projected demand for hospital services, Shandro said.

The press release stated that the recent COVID-19 modeling projections indicate the most probable scenario for Alberta is the virus will reach its peak mid-May. 

An estimated 820 people could require hospitalization during the peak period, with more than a quarter requiring critical care. 

With current supply stockpiles and more shipments on the way, Alberta will retain enough of each of the PPE items to maintain an adequate supply of each.

Shandro said the province recently signed contracts of more than $200 million value, for gowns N95 masks, and procedural masks among others.

He stated that the right thing to do is support other Canadian health-care systems.

Ventilators are expected to remain in Ontario until the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak has passed.

For more information on the Covid-19 response from the provincial government, go to alberta.ca/covid-19

Food blogger getting community cooking

Christina Oliver Photo
Zaryn Oliver shows off the results after her family participated in the pizza pretzel cooking class offered for free online through Cooking With Jax. Next class is April 19 at 1 pm.

Tyler Waugh

COVID-19 has prompted a lot of people to spend more time in the kitchen, expanding their culinary horizons … and their waistlines.

Jacqueline Delisle, a food blogger based out of Hinton, says that humans have food memories – a food nostalgia – and she’s hoping to help feed that nostalgia with a series of free virtual cooking classes.

“This is an idea I have had for a long time, actually. I’ve wanted to do a cooking show and it’s just been sitting on the back burner for a while,” she said.

“With so many people finding comfort in their kitchen right now, I thought these classes would be a great way to bring the community together. I wanted it to be free and to be accessible.”

Delisle was involved in setting up a virtual wine tasting for The Wild Orchid Liquor Co. last month, and was also a guest mixologist.

She saw the opportunity to translate that technology into an online cooking experience as well. She started a couple of weeks ago with a make your own pasta class that drew 25 participants through Zoom. 

“Pasta is such a comforting food and it’s really quick so I thought it would be a great place to start,” Delisle said.

Her next class featured local businessman Devlin Griffiths, who walked participants through making his pizza pretzels. It was a class that drew 108 registrations from around 70 families.

“I thought that local businesses needed some support and I wanted to incorporate them into the classes. I know that Devlin is a really great cook and so I started with him,” Delisle said.

“He’s been making pretzels for a wile now and every time he makes pizza pretzels he saves me one, and that’s not easy!”

Delisle started soliciting feedback from participants about what types of food they would like to see featured and there were a lot of suggestions – from gluten-free ideas, to paleo or just healthy food in general.

So next up she convinced Tracy Sheppard and Brian LaBerge to teach people to make Buddha Bowls and also the perfect steak on April 19. She has about eight guest cooks lined up for coming weeks.

The virtual cooking classes take place Sunday, which has always been synonymous with cooking or baking with Delisle, going back to her food blogging origins around a decade ago.

“I’ve gotten away from the blogging, but when I was it was always on Sunday,” she said.

“It’s a day where the world always slows down for me.”

Anybody looking to register for the free class can visit www.cookingwithjax.com and click on the classes tab near the top of the page. Classes start at 1 pm. Contact (780) 865-0962 or cookingwithjax@gmail.com for more information.

Landlords and tenants adapt to COVID-19 rules

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Alberta’s new protections for residential and mobile home site tenants may be leaving landlords in a tough spot, said one local landlord.

The new protections were put in place for those facing financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Those protections include that tenants cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent or utilities before May 1, no rent increases while Alberta’s State of Public Health Emergency remains in effect, and no late fees until June 30.

The protections also state that landlords and tenants need to work together to develop payment plans while COVID-19 is being managed.

“The protections put in place take into account both landlords and tenants and will help prevent a bad situation from becoming worse,” said Tricia Velthuizen, press secretary to Nate Gublish, minister of Service Alberta. 

“Ultimately we want landlords and tenants to work together to make their own arrangements on getting caught up on rent payments. Working collaboratively means stability for both parties during this public health emergency. Government has also announced utility bill and student loan payment deferrals, banking solutions, and an education property tax freeze, in addition to the federal government’s financial supports.”

Lynsey Romano, a landlord with rental properties in Hinton, is not against the moratorium on evictions but has run into some issues with the new rules.

“We need to take care of people first, and no one deserves to lose the security of a safe place to live, especially during a pandemic,” she said.

Romano is now calling on the government to protect both parties and allow those taking advantage of the system to be evicted. 

Landlords can still file applications and receive orders for possession if the reason for the eviction is unrelated to rent or utility payments, or if a tenant refused to negotiate or comply with a payment plan.

Sherry Travers, who lives in Hillcrest Mobile Estates, stated that their park managers were already putting no late fees and no evictions in place before the legislation was announced. Having the added provincial legislation in place gives renters extra security, she said.

“I have stressed numerous times that tenants need to reach out to management if they need a deferral or payment plan in place. I also stressed that this is not free rent,” she said.

Tenants should pay what they can in the meantime, she added, to avoid a huge bill at the end of this. 

Evictions can and will still happen if tenants don’t reach out to management and explain their circumstances.

“I think protections for landlords needs to be in place so people can’t just live for free for months and then ditch their place when all of their rent is due,” Travers said.

Yellowhead MLA Martin Long said the provincial government also understands that landlords have their own bills to pay. 

“As a result, these measures are intended to be temporary, with renters still required to pay the full amount,” he said.

He emphasized that communication between renters and landlords is key.

“This is an ever-evolving situation and our government is doing everything it can to lessen the economic burdens of the pandemic, and to protect Albertans during this difficult time,” he added.

Romano explained there was little detail in the government’s communication on how to support landlords and tenants in developing meaningful payment plans.

The new rules say that both parties must work together to come up with a plan, but there are many questions around how long payments can continue after a tenancy is terminated, or collecting late payments after tenants move out. There also isn’t any government ruling in place that states there will be help for landlords in collecting unpaid rent after the pandemic is over.

“That’s a difficult spot, some [landlords] are in a position where they can extend credit and help their tenant out, some [landlords] are not,” Romano said.

“That leaves landlords pretty exposed because the way things are already set up, historically, it’s very difficult to collect unpaid rent in the best of times.”

If landlords don’t receive their payments, they can go through the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS), which can end in a number of different ways. If the tenant doesn’t have any assets or credit that could be compromised through the RTDRS or a collections service, the landlord could face a loss.

“The greater issue in all of this is that landlords were asked to extend credit to tenants. Nobody purchased a property or entered into a lease agreement with some underlying understanding that ‘oh yea by the way, if things go crazy and there’s a pandemic, we’re going to put a ban on evictions and you’re just going to need to extend credit without interest to your tenant,’” Romano said.

Romano hopes that the government will give more clarity on what payment plans look like and how landlords can collect their payments. Without the added structure from the government, the current rules leave a lot of room for anyone to take advantage of the situation and avoid repayment.

“There’s no regulation in place. It would be one thing if it was somewhat regulated through the government and they were vetting who qualifies for the rent moratorium,” Romano said.

A governing body could verify if someone’s employment has been disrupted and if they need help.

Romano added that in a perfect world there wouldn’t be a ban on evictions and instead tenants could apply for a loan or subsidy through the government to pay their rent.

“If you’re unable to pay your rent, much like how you would apply for an emergency benefit, you could apply for an emergency rent benefit,” she said.

Some protection for landlords includes the fact that if a tenant refuses to enter into a payment plan or pay rent at all, landlords can issue an eviction notice.

Romano hopes Alberta will come up with a more equitable solution, one that protects the interest of the landlord and one that protects the interest of the tenant.

She pointed towards BC as a good reference point in handling the rent situation. BC put a $500 rent subsidy in place for those affected by the pandemic, which is issued to their landlord.

“Something along those lines is what I would hope for. So tenants stay in place and they stay safe but also it mitigates the ability for someone to take advantage of the system,” Romano said.

Romano and her husband listed one of their rental properties already as they feel it is too much of a risk right now to find new tenants.

On top of not receiving rent payments for a possible three months, landlords still have other costs like maintenance, condo fees, utilities, taxes, and insurance.

“It’s better for us to walk away than to try and negotiate with a new wave of tenants that are receiving messaging that promotes not paying rent. If you look at the media, such as the online comments on news stories – the way this has been presented is very hard on landlords and tenants are more than happy to see landlords in this difficult position,” Romano wrote in a letter to Alberta’s Premier.

While not all tenants have that opinion, she added that she would leave any empty unit vacant during this pandemic as there is less liability in not having tenants.

If other landlords feel the same way, a potential end result could be a smaller rental market with less available space and more expensive rent, she explained.

Historically, Hinton is a difficult place to find rental space and there aren’t a lot of affordable housing options, she continued.

“To eliminate even a few of those will definitely put some pressure on the system,” Romano said. 

New family support services in Hinton

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

New prevention and early intervention services and support will be provided to the community through the Town of Hinton and the Hinton Friendship Centre Society (HFC).

Both the town and the HFC applied and received a grant to provide services through the new Family Resource Network (FRN).

These supports are targeted to families facing poverty or trauma who may need support and guidance to build healthy families and contribute to healthy communities, ultimately reducing the number of children who will come into provincial care. 

The Alberta website stated that as Alberta faces both a pandemic and an economic contraction due to the oil price drop, support to families in need will be critical.

HFC will provide Home Visitation and Family Support services, while the Town of Hinton will provide Caregiver Education and Support.

The HFC will also be providing some Indigenous and trauma-informed training to the FRN workers, consisting of support for frontline workers.

Prior to the new FRN, Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) managed the Parent Link program, which provided similar services as part of a regional partnership between Edson, Hinton, Jasper, and Athabasca County.

All contracts between the Government of Alberta and Parent Link, family resiliency, home visitation, and family diversion programs ended on March 31, 2020. 

In place of those contracts, the Province issued a new grant opportunity under the revised FRN model.

Parent Link primarily served caregivers and children ages 0-4, in early childhood development, parent education, parent support, information and referral, and developmental screening.

Hinton’s Parent Link site had two full-time employees and one casual employee, which were laid off due to the loss of funding.

There was no funding provided to offer early childhood development or developmental screenings, an impactful and popular Parent Link program according to FCSS staff.

“Parent Education, Support, and Information/Referrals will also be provided on a reduced and modified scale to fit within the new Framework resource capacity and to adjust to one part-time staff as opposed to two full-time staff,” said Jenna Altrogge, FCSS assistant manager.

The Hinton Friendship Centre lost one contract that funded their Head Start Program.

“The bulk of our funding came through Health Canada but we lost 10 of our Early Childhood Development spots. This is a loss to the community as these were our only non-Indigenous spots,” said Lisa Higgerty, co-executive director/program manager Mamowichihitowin of HFC.

The Aboriginal Head Start Program was the third program offered by Hinton’s Friendship centre. The focus of the program was to provide opportunities for children and their families to connect to the native heritage, promoting child development based on each child’s learning needs, and supporting families to live a healthy lifestyle.

The Town of Hinton, the HFC, and the Edson Friendship Centre are now part of a regional partnership to provide FRN Services, coordinated by the Hub located in the Municipality of Jasper.

Each agency was provided grants to offer different services. 

The Town was awarded a three-year grant for approximately $78,000 per year allocated to support the independent program budget and provide Caregiver Education and Support Services for caregivers with children ages 0-18. 

This includes caregiver education, parent support, and information and referral.

A one part-time caregiver education coordinator will offer education and support to caregivers to increase their capacity to create safe, responsive, and nurturing environments and encourage healthy child development, stated the town’s release.

This position is currently being recruited to join the Town of Hinton’s FCSS team, as well as another casual position.

Previously, the Hinton Parent Link site operated on a grant-funded budget of $183,000 annually.

On April 7, the Government of Alberta formally announced the launch of the new provincial FRN, including a list of the successful agencies receiving funding. 

The provincial network of community-based service providers is set up as a ‘hub and spokes’ model, in which the ‘spokes’ are the network of services, supports, and programming that children, youth, and families can access through the ‘hub.’

Hubs will coordinate the delivery of services either by delivering them directly or collaborating with other qualified service agencies or community partners, called spokes.

The Town of Hinton and HFC are spokes that will work in collaboration with the new FRN Hub out of Jasper Community Outreach Support Services.

All agencies collectively supported Jasper Community Outreach Support Services in taking on the role as hub.

“We wanted Jasper as the hub because they have been delivering a “family resource network” model for well over a decade. They have a solid team and good leadership as well. The Friendship Centre has partnered with them on many different projects so the relationship was there already,” said Higgerty.

Altrogge added that the decision to award the Hub to Jasper was made by the province, not the region, and they would have been selected from among a list of other Hub applicants.

The hub will coordinate service delivery of the Referral and Coordination services of spokes and support families in navigating the service systems.

The hub is also responsible for streamlining the FRN program referral process, ensuring service delivery meets the needs of communities, establishing collaborations, and monitoring and reporting all hub and spoke activities to the Family and Community Resiliency Division.

“We are still working as a group with Jasper Community Outreach Support Services to determine how the model will run regionally. We will be delivering consistent services across the region giving people continuity of services,” said Higgerty.

The Alberta website stated that this network will ensure no area of the province is neglected and that supports are both linked and consistent wherever a family lives or moves to.

FRN programming is offered in a variety of service settings including home-based, community-based, centre-based, ‘other’, which can include video conferencing, telephone, or online.

Children’s Services continued the expression of interest process remotely to ensure that when the crisis of the pandemic subsides, successful service providers will be fully prepared to welcome families. 

Until that time, FRN will identify support services that can be delivered by phone or over the internet, stated the Alberta website.

A link to these resources will be provided online to assist Albertans to locate services best suited to their needs. For additional information, see the Government of Alberta website, or contact the FCSS Office at 780-865-6036. 

Province announces fire prevention measures

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

FireSmart enhanced by $20 million, bans put on fires and OHV use

Alberta’s wildfire season coincides with the expected peak of COVID-19 in May, and the Alberta government has put extra precautions in place to try and avoid dealing with multiple disasters all at once.

The province announced April 14 that Alberta Wildfire is hiring 200 additional firefighters, invoking a fire ban, implementing off-highway vehicle (OHV) restrictions, increasing fine violations, and funding $20 million more in community FireSmart initiatives.

Alberta wildfire hazards are typically highest in late April through May, when fuel like trees and grasses have extremely low moisture content after the snow has melted.

“With Alberta’s wildfire season matching with the expected peak of COVID-19, we have to take extra precautions to ensure our response efforts are well-funded and planned out. This spring, we may find ourselves facing multiple disasters at once. With all these measures, we will be prepared,” said Devin Dreeshen, minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

The additional FireSmart funds will support vegetation management in the province. The province stated that the department will work with municipalities to ensure these funds are used this fiscal year.

The Town of Hinton will be applying for any vegetation management moving forward, stated Fire Chief Todd Martens.

“We normally get an email through an expression of interest for FRIAA funds for FireSmart work. We have not received any new email for new expressions of interest as of yet,” he said.

Funds are not guaranteed through the process as the town will have to apply and make a case based on FireSmart mitigation strategies, priorities in the province, and meet all of the requested information in the application.

“When we apply for funding we use the five-year mitigation strategy and include areas identified in that plan. We also will be applying for maintenance money on previous FireSmart areas that are over a certain year,” Martens explained.

The challenge during the last expression of interest was that there was only money available for projects or plans, not vegetation management. 

Martens explained that Hinton needed vegetation management money as there is already a five-year mitigation strategy plan.

Hinton has utilized FireSmart funds in the past to help reduce the wildfire risk to residents and the community. 

The FireSmart program includes grants to support the most at-risk communities in Alberta, including Indigenous communities.

A fire and OHV ban in the Forest Protection Area, provincial parks, and protected areas came into effect on April 15. Hinton is located inside of the Forest Protection Area, but the Municipality of Hinton itself does not have a current fire ban.

More than a million acres burned in Alberta last year and 71 per cent of wildfires were human-caused. The reason behind the OHV restrictions are due to hot mufflers potentially sparking wildfires.

Indigenous people can still use OHVs on public land for traditional purposes and OHVs on private lands, for industrial use and by emergency responders is also permitted.

“While OHV use is only attributed to 1.4 per cent of forest fires from 2006 to 2018 (281 of 19588 fires), at this time many activities have been restricted including the closure of both provincial and federal parks within the province,” said Kim Robicheau, office administrator of the Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association (AOHVA).

It is important for OHV users and owners to make sure their units have functional spark arrestors and cleaned regularly. 

All OHVs come from the factory with these spark arrestors, meant to reduce the potential of spark related fires, Robicheau explained.

“While most users ride on trails, those using for industry or off trails – make sure to clean debris that is collected around the engine, and exhaust regularly,” Robichaeu said.

The province said these measures are temporary and will remain in place as long as required to combat the wildfire risk, and Robicheau added that the AOHVA expects the restrictions to be lifted before summer.

This also means fire permits are suspended in the area and fires must be extinguished.

Non-compliance fines of the fire ban have doubled from $300 to $600 while non-compliance for the OHV restriction has doubled from $600 to $1,200.

Individuals being fined can also be held liable for all costs associated with fighting a wildfire.

Last year, more than $600 million was spent fighting wildfires in Alberta, the government release said.

These fines are in addition to the existing penalties for arson under the Criminal Code.

An additional $5 million investment will enable 200 firefighters to be hired and trained to assist with the provincial wildfire suppression this season. More than 800 seasonal firefighters join 370 year-round staff at Alberta Wildfire. 

These resources are hired at one of the 10 Forest Areas, and are moved throughout the Forest Protection Area as required.

“These are important jobs that will help us fight wildfires across the province. These additional firefighters will be directed to the highest risk Forest Protection Areas throughout the year,” said Justin Laurence, acting press secretary to the minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Up-to-date information on fire restrictions, fire bans, OHV restrictions and general wildfire information is available at albertafirebans.ca or by calling 1-866-FYI-FIRE (1-866-394-3473).

To report a wildfire, call 310-FIRE (310-3473) toll-free, from anywhere in Alberta.