(Black Press file photo.)

Fire bans, all-terrain-vehicle restrictions start in central Alberta to prevent wildfires

Emergency resources could be over-stretched otherwise, says minister

Fire bans and off-highway vehicle restrictions are being implemented in Alberta’s provincial parks and protected areas starting Wednesday.

Fines for violators are being doubled, and more firefighting resources are being deployed — all to prevent spring wildfires from overstretching Alberta’s emergency services during this pandemic.

“Albertans are tough and we’re all doing what we can to keep each other safe during COVID-19,” said central Alberta MLA Devin Dreeshen, the minister of agriculture and forestry.

“With Alberta’s wildfire season matching with the expected peak of COVID-19, we have to take extra precautions to ensure our response efforts are well-funded and planned out.

“This spring, we may find ourselves facing multiple disasters at once. With all these measures, we will be prepared.”

Typically, Alberta’s wildfire hazard is highest in late April through May, when trees and grasses are dry after all the snow has melted and before the rainy season begins in June.

According to Alberta Forestry, more than a million acres burned last year and 71 per cent of wildfires were human-caused and preventable.

With provincial resources currently stretched due to COVID-19, Dreeshen said these preventative measures will better equip Alberta’s response to spring wildfires this year.

Anyone who doesn’t comply with a fire ban or off-highway vehicle restriction could receive a court summons and hefty fines.

Fines are being doubled from $300 to $600 for non-compliance with a fire ban and from $600 to $1,200 for non-compliance with an off-highway vehicle restriction.

Anyone who causes a wildfire could be forced to pay for all the costs associated with extinguishing it. Last year, more than $600 million was spent fighting wildfires in Alberta.

An additional $5 million investment is being made to hire and train 200 high-quality firefighters to assist with the provincial wildfire suppression this season.

More than 800 seasonal firefighters will join 370 year-round staff at Alberta Wildfire.

Fire bans in the Forest Protection Area and provincial parks take effect on Wednesday, as does the recreational off-highway vehicle ban on Crown land in the Forest Protection Area.

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