Alberta’s changing weather patterns have prompted earlier starts to fire permit season.
Fire permits will be required in the forests and other natural areas overseen by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry as of March 1, a month earlier than was once the case.
Lacombe County served notice earlier this week that it was following the lead of the province and will begin fire permit season in March.
County residents who break the rules can face some hefty expenses. A flat rate of $300 is charged when someone burns without a permit or is in contravention of the Fire and Prairie Protection Act.
Those breaking the rules also have to pay for the responding firefighting vehicles. A fire truck costs $500 per hour. Water trucks, rapid response units, mini-pumpers and equipment vans cost $300 per hour.
“Fire permits are free of charge and easy to obtain, yet we continue to have situations where people don’t take out a permit and can be charged under the bylaw,” said Lacombe County fire chief Drayton Bussiere.
Provincial wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather said a March fire permit season start began several years ago and was legislated under the Forest and Prairie Protection Act for the first time last year.
“We are starting to see earlier springs and fires are starting to pop up a little sooner,” Fairweather said on Friday.
“The last few winters in particular have had a little bit less snow, a little less moisture in the ground.
“That definitely results in drier conditions in the spring. Anytime you get a lot of that dry, matted grass that’s when you’re going to see a lot of fire danger out there.”
Fairweather was not about to speculate on why the weather pattern appears to be changing.
“That’s probably more of a question for a meteorologist,” he said. “We just sort of look at what’s happening out there and react to that.
“This time of year, we’re obviously not seeing a lot of fires but to get fire permits on the books and rolling is always good for us.”
The earlier fire permit season also allows the province to get started on its firefighter training earlier. More than 100 firefighters are already on the job in Alberta with more being added every week.
Fire permits are required for any burning, except campfires, in Alberta’s Forest Protection Area.
Last fire season, 1,231 fires burned 121,000 acres. Nearly 800 fires were caused by humans. Sixty-eight tickets and written warnings were handed out for burning without a permit and leaving campfires unattended.