Oh, February. The days are (slowly) getting longer, and spring feels like it’s just around the corner…but chances are, no matter where you are in the province, you’re still surrounded by piles of snow, cold air, and a bunch of cranky Albertans who can’t wait for summer.
If you’re in that boat, wildfires are probably the last thing on your mind. After all, wildfires only happen in the hot, dry dog days of summer — right?
Wrong. It seems incredible, but most of Alberta’s wildfires tend to happen earlier in the season. In fact, last year, half of Alberta’s 1,200 recorded wildfires started in May — and that’s not to mention all the ones that started earlier than that.
Spring melt: deceptively slushy
You might think that spring – when melting snow makes everything slushy — is too wet for wildfires to spark. But in order for precipitation (that’s rain and snow for us laypeople) to decrease wildfire risk, it has to be absorbed by the ground.
And unfortunately, when snow melts, the ground is still frozen. Runoff isn’t absorbed — and when the snow is done melting, what is left is very dry — and very flammable. And based on our data, this is now happening earlier than it has before.
Starting wildfire season early allows us to do three main things:
- We can respond better to wildfires that happen earlier. All the evidence shows that fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer, and that they are impacted by more extreme weather conditions. Preparing in March helps us confront this new reality.
- We can marshal our resources — like staff — earlier in the season, so that they’re ready when we need them, no matter how early that is.
- We can keep better tabs on early spring fire hazards — by requiring the public and industry to apply for burn permits one month earlier than in the past.
Yep, that’s right: starting March 1, any burning in the Forest Protection Area besides campfires will require a permit. Next Forestry Friday, we’ll talk about why these permits are so important — and what can happen if you don’t get one.