The May long weekend is often defined by the smoky smell of a campfire. But some backcountry campers may have to forgo that pleasure this weekend as a fire ban for all forested areas across Alberta has been issued, including parts of Mountain View and Ponoka counties.
“We have seen a number of recent fires that have grown into fairly large ones,” said wildfire information officer Whitney Exton.
Most of these, as lightning season has not yet begun, have been started due to human activity, she said. In fact, 60 per cent of wildfires are caused by people.
“This ban is in place due to dry conditions but also because we are trying to reduce the number of human-caused fires for everyone’s safety.”
The ban, issued on Monday, prohibits the lightning of outdoor fires, fireworks and the use of portable campfires.
However, campers and those living in the ban area are allowed to have a propane barbecue or a fire in a designated campground/recreation area so long as it is in an existing metal fire pit.
The ban does not apply to lands within cities, towns or villages. For more information, visit www.albertafirebans.ca.
Clearwater County, which anticipates a high influx of campers this weekend, declared a fire ban for the municipality on Tuesday.
A wildfire is unpredictable and can spread quickly, said Ron Leaf, Clearwater County municipal manager. “We ask that off-highway vehicle users be cautious when driving through tall grass or brush,” he said.
Stettler, Lacombe and Red Deer counties have not issued fire bans but are monitoring the situation daily.
Meanwhile, in addition to preventing fire hazards, government and conservation officers, RCMP, Alberta Sheriffs and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement will be patrolling campgrounds, provincial parks, highways and ATV routes.
“We’ll have additional law enforcement officers on various sections of the QE2 Highway on the lookout for alcohol-related incidents and raising awareness for all-around road safety,” said Patrick Mears, a communications officer with the Alberta Solicitor General and Public Security.
It will be business as usual for Red Deer RCMP this weekend, said Cpl. Kathe DeHeer.
“We plan to see a lot more motorcycles out on the roads this weekend,” she said. “We’ll be watching for distracted drivers, speed, seatbelts, things like that which are big factors in serious collisions.”
National Road Safety Week runs from Wednesday to Monday and the RCMP urge drivers to slow down on the highways and not to drink and drive.
Extra officers have been called in for the long weekend for precautionary measures at Sylvan Lake RCMP, said Cpl. Kevin Halwa.
“Traditionally the May long in Sylvan Lake is not as much of an issue as it is in the West County, especially compared to what we see here for the July long weekend,” said Halwa.
RCMP will probably be patrolling the lake in their boat and walking the beach to enforce the zero tolerance policy for alcohol on the beach, he added.
Meanwhile, Rocky Mountain House RCMP have been preparing for the long weekend for the past two months, said Sgt. Chris Matechuk.
The detachment has pulled in extra resources from Clearwater County officers, Sustainable Resource officers and Commercial Vehicle Enforcement officers. They’ll have an excess of around 40 officers, said Matechuk.
There will be major checkstops Friday night along the highways as well as “random roving checkstops” on off-road routes and ATV patrols throughout the weekend, said Matechuk.
“We have zero tolerance for liquor on the highways as well as on quads.”
RCMP will also be patrolling the Saskatchewan River on a jet boat.
Alberta RCMP and sheriff integrated traffic units laid 3,263 charges across the province on the May long weekend last year. These included impaired driving, careless driving, speeding and stunting just to name a few.
Campers are reminded to also abide by the liquor bans in Aspen Beach Provincial Park at Gull Lake and Jarvis Bay at Sylvan Lake in addition to seven other provincial parks. The ban runs from noon on Thursday to 6 p.m. on Monday. For more information, visit www.albertaparks.ca.
A checklist to prepare for a safe May long weekend outdoors is available at www.srd.alberta.ca/recreationpublicuse/campingoutdoorrecreation.