Helicopter owner Doug Paris was flying to a job when he learned about a grass fire at his rural home near Bluffton on Monday. Paris diverted to a nearby dugout

Helicopter owner Doug Paris was flying to a job when he learned about a grass fire at his rural home near Bluffton on Monday. Paris diverted to a nearby dugout

Fire hazard turns extreme

Wildfire season gained momentum in Central Alberta with the extremely dry conditions. Ric Henderson, Red Deer County assistant manager, said the county has seen over 20 fires in the last 10 days. On Monday afternoon, the county responded to an accidental brush fire east of Red Deer near Hwy 595 and Range Road 262.

Wildfire season gained momentum in Central Alberta with the extremely dry conditions.

Ric Henderson, Red Deer County assistant manager, said the county has seen over 20 fires in the last 10 days.

On Monday afternoon, the county responded to an accidental brush fire east of Red Deer near Hwy 595 and Range Road 262.

“Someone was out welding in their yard and a spark got into some dry grass and took off and got into the bush,” Henderson said on Monday.

He said a possible brush fire was also put out in the Spruce View area on Monday.

“We need precipitation. The ground cover, the grass, brush is extremely dry so it doesn’t take much.” Henderson warned people should call 911 right away if they even suspect a fire.

In the Rimbey area, a large fire northeast of Rimbey was brought under control and several small fires were put out on Monday.

Rimbey fire chief John Weisgerber said it was the worst day so far this fire season.

Three human-caused wildfires were fought this weekend in the Rocky Mountain House Wildfire Management Area.

A 1.5-hectare fire was being held on Monday, while a 0.05-hectare fire was already extinguished. Both were caused by recreational users. Another 0.1-hectare fire is under investigation.

Fire bans are in effect from the parched Red Deer area right to the Saskatchewan border.

And with strong winds in Central Alberta’s weather forecast instead of rain, the dry situation only stands to get worse, said Environment Canada forecast technologist Greg Pearce.

“Wind can really whip up a fire . . . (the conditions are) way worse if it’s 15 degrees and windy than if it’s 27 degrees and calm,” he added.

Today’s expected 16C is more than a 10-degree drop from Monday’s record-breaking 29C (the previous record was 27.8C). The northern front bringing the cooler temperature is accompanied by high winds gusting from 20 to 60 km/h.

Open fires are already prohibited because of dry conditions in Red Deer County, the County of Stettler, and the Summer Village of Rochon Sands.

All outdoor fires must be extinguished, regardless of whether landowners in these areas have previously received fire permits.

However, fires contained in cooking appliances such as barbecues are still permitted, as are fires in household fireplaces, as long as they are equipped with a screen to prevent sparks from leaving the chimney.

In Red Deer County, fires contained within industrial facilities for operational purposes are also still allowed.

The bans are in effect until further notice.

There is no fire ban yet for the West Country, although Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has stopped issuing burn permits.

Clearwater Fire Rescue Services Deputy Chief Patrick Oslund said Clearwater County, with so much Crown land, usually follows the province’s lead in issuing a fire ban. “Right now, we are asking people to be extremely careful when starting fires in fire pits, to dig deep into the mineral soil.”

Wildfire officer Geoffrey Driscoll said conditions in some areas of Alberta are similar to May 2011 before flames roared through the town of Slave Lake, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing thousands of people to flee to safety.

On Monday afternoon there were 25 wildfires burning in Alberta. Five of the fires were being held and none were out of control.

Pearce said the Red Deer region has a slim chance of rain in the foreseeable future. There’s a greater expectation of moisture falling west, along the Rocky Mountain foothills.

If it does rain in the Red Deer area, the showers will be brief and sporadic, he predicted.

“With cold fronts, there’s always an outside chance of a spotty shower or two, but mostly it will be dry and breezy.”

In the meantime, Central Albertans will see a “roller-coaster” of temperatures this week.

Things should heat up to 23C and 21C, respectively, on Wednesday and Thursday, cool down again to a breezy 15C on Friday, then warm to a comfortable 22C on Saturday and 26C on Sunday.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

with files from The Canadian Press