Fire season starts next month and firefighters are already training and preparing to help protect Albertans and communities from wildfires. Firefighters are positioned throughout the province, even in the winter, to respond to any wildfires. Alberta adopted the March 1 start in 2012 in keeping with recommendations made following the Slave Lake and area wildfires in 2011.
But what does this mean for Albertans?
When we think of wildfires, we usually think of hazy, hot days in July and August. After all, that’s when we tend to see smoke in the air.
So it might surprise you to know that most of Alberta’s wildfires usually happen earlier in the season. In 2014, 60 per cent of all wildfires were human-caused. In March alone, there were 11 wildfires, showing that despite snow wildfires can happen.
You might think that spring – when melting snow makes everything slushy — is too wet for wildfires to spark. But in order for moisture to decrease wildfire risk, it has to be absorbed by the ground – which is impossible when the ground is frozen. When the snow is done melting, what is left behind is very dry — and very flammable – making starting fire season a month early a no-brainer!
Starting wildfire season early allows us to do three main things:
- We can respond better to wildfires that happen earlier. Research shows fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer, and that they are impacted by more extreme weather conditions.
- We can get more firefighters in the field sooner. We position firefighters and equipment in areas of high hazard and track the weather so we are best prepared to fight a wildfire. This allows firefighters to prevent, detect and fight wildfires quickly and effectively.
- We can identify where Albertans have been burning over the winter to prevent spring wildfires. Fall and winter burns that aren’t extinguished can smoulder in the ground for months and resurface as a wildfire when the weather warms and the grass dries.
You can help firefighters by getting a fire permit. Avoid a false alarm and make sure firefighters are where they are needed, not in your backyard. To get a fire permit, you can phone 310-0000 or visit your local ESRD office; visit wildfire.alberta.ca for more information.
Keep in mind: under the Forest and Prairie Protection Act, if you burn without a permit and accidentally start a wildfire, or even if firefighters are sent to check your burn, you can be held responsible for the firefighting costs.