FireSmart all year ’round: safety tips for winter burning

Winter burns can still lead to summer wildfires. Be FireSmart.

Winter burns can still lead to summer wildfires. Be FireSmart.

The risk of fire doesn’t end when wildfire season does – any time there is a fire on the land, there is a risk that it can spread.

Through the winter months, farmers and other Albertans on the land may need to conduct winter burns. Controlled burns get rid of dead vegetation, minimizing the risk of wildfires come summer.

But if they’re not done right, winter burns can also increase the risk of wildfires. If fires aren’t properly put out, they can spread underground – up to three metres under the snow and ice – and can burn all winter. Under the right conditions, these fires can re-emerge in the spring as wildfires.

Wet summer + snowy winter = high risk?

It seems simple: the more rain and snow, the damper the ground and the more mild the risk of spring wildfires – right? It’s not quite that simple.

First of all: although the high amounts of rainfall we received this past summer meant fewer wildfires at the time, it also gave grass and underbrush lots of opportunity to grow – increasing the risk of grass fires this coming spring.

But more snow must mean a wetter spring and summer, right? Guess again. Although snow, like rain, is just water, more snow doesn’t translate to wetter spring ground. That’s because snow melt and runoff frequently occurs before the ground thaws up. The water can’t be absorbed, and the result is dry grass and ground – increasing the risk of wildfire.

While fire permits are not required from November 1-March 31, you are always required to burn responsibly.

Follow these 5 tips to make sure your winter burn doesn’t become a summer wildfire: 

  1. Check conditions before you go. Don’t burn if there is little snow on the ground or if the wind speed is over 15 kilometres per hour.
  2. Be prepared. Take the proper firefighting tools with you – including an axe, two shovels, and at least 200 litres of water.
Don't burn unless there's lots of snow on the ground - this minimizes the risk of spreading.

Don’t burn unless there’s lots of snow on the ground – this minimizes the risk of spreading.

  1. Move it. Your debris should be piled on a compact area – ideally, a road – to reduce the risk of the fire spreading underground. Never build a pile anywhere where water drains (including around ditches, streams, and creeks).
  2. Build it right. Your pile should be built to a maximum height of 3 metres in a beehive shape, with a ‘fireguard’ or moat of cleared land around it to stop the spread of fire. You also want a clean burn – to avoid getting soil mixed up in the pile, use a brush rake or loader to make your pile.
  3. Check it twice. Check to ensure your burns are extinguished. Moving ash or debris around can help speed up this process; so can soaking the site with water. Once you soak the ashes, stir them and soak them again. The area should be cool to the touch before you leave your burn site.
  • If you have any questions about proper burning procedures, call 310-0000.
  • To report a wildfire in the forest, phone toll-free 24 hours 310-FIRE (3473).

3 thoughts on “FireSmart all year ’round: safety tips for winter burning

  1. Pingback: Alberta Wildfire Season starts March 1st |

  2. Pingback: Wildfire Hazard – Low |

  3. Pingback: Get your Fire Permits |

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