Red Deer County fire crews as well as Innisfail and Penhold fire departments responded to a wildfire on Hwy 42 last year. (File photo by MURRAY CRAWFORD/Advocate Staff)

Preparing for fire season in Central Alberta

With the snow melted and temperatures rising in Central Alberta, fire season is beginning.

It’s too soon to say whether fire crews will be busy this season, said Jim Pendergast, Penhold fire chief.

“You just don’t ever know,” he said. “It could be really bad for a couple days and then there would be nothing for three or four weeks.”

The grass is dry and the ground is partly frozen, he added.

“April was so cold and so snowy, it’s been an immediate turnaround for summertime weather,” said Pendergast.

Pendergast said there are a few things people should keep in mind if they have a campfire.

“The most important thing is to make sure you’re not around anything combustable … including fences, decks or trees.

“Always keep an eye out for the weather. With heavy winds you’ll think you have a fire under control and then boom it’s out of control,” he said.

READ MORE: Fire permit season begins in March

Matt Bell, a provincial wildfire information officer, said hot and dry conditions are optimal for wildfires.

“Certain precautions are taken to limit the amount of wildfires,” Bell said. “From a weather perspective it’s very difficult to predict … but we prepare for anything the wildfire season can throw at us.”

A four-month seasonal forecast, released by Environment Canada Monday, suggests drier and milder conditions for Central Alberta this spring.

Since March 1 there have been 109 wildfires that have burned nearly 250 acres in forested areas across Alberta.

“We see that dry grass as a result of the snow melt, which obviously can increase the threat of a wildfire. But we’re constantly monitoring the risk of wildfire across the province on a daily basis,” said Bell.

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.

Bell said more than 2,600 fire permits have been issues for forested areas in Alberta.

“Permits ensure proper burning practices and allow us to monitor where these burning practices are done,” he said. “It ensures enforcement of non-permitted burning is acted upon.”

Fire permits are required for any burning, except campfires, in Alberta’s Forest Protection Area.

Bell said firefighters and supplies are prepositioned in high danger locations so there can be a quick response.

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