Bone-dry forests, winds fanning fire threat

EDMONTON — As people in Slave Lake prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of wildfires that ravaged the town, the threat of new wildfires in the region was listed as extreme Friday.

EDMONTON — As people in Slave Lake prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of wildfires that ravaged the town, the threat of new wildfires in the region was listed as extreme Friday.

Alberta fire officials say the forests north of Edmonton are bone-dry, trees and grass haven’t greened up, humidity is low and winds are strong and gusty.

The combination of factors means the potential in the northern half of the province for wildfires ranges from high, to very-high to extreme, Geoffrey Driscoll, a wildfire information officer, said Friday.

“Those types of conditions are really ripe for strong and big wildfires,” Driscoll said.

“If a wildfire does start in a lot of these areas it can grow really big, really fast,”

That is exactly what happened last May when wildfires, whipped by high winds, tore through the town of Slave Lake northwest of Edmonton, destroying more than 500 homes and buildings and forcing thousands of people to flee to safety. Damage is estimated at close to $1 billion.

Alberta isn’t taking the chance of that happening again.

The province has marshalled a force in the Lesser Slave Lake region of 84 firefighters, 27 support staff, six heavy equipment groups, fourteen helicopters and two air tanker groups to quickly jump on any new wildfires.

The government also launched its fire season a month early in March to be ready.

Driscoll said the forests in northern Alberta received less than half of the usual snowfall over the winter, making the trees and brush drier than normal.

Other areas of the province where the wildfire threat is worrisome include the Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, High Prairie, Lac la Biche and Whitecourt regions.

With little or no lightning at this time of year any wildfires that do break out are almost certainly caused by people or machinery, such as all terrain vehicles.

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