When there's snow on the ground and colder temperatures, wildfire seems an unlikely topic.
Yet, it's top of mind for provincial officials year-round, particularly as they prepare to officially launch the 2023 wildfire season on Mar. 1.
"Preparations for the 2023 wildfire season in the Calgary Forest Area are well underway," says Anastasia Drummond, wildfire information officer for the Calgary Forest Area. "We have our first wave of our seasonal wildland firefighters completing their fitness testing and will be in place later next week.
"In addition, we've got the equipment and specialized contracts in place," she continues. "Facilities will begin to open to support our wildfire season startup and, of course, over the coming weeks and months, additional staff will be onboarding and we'll have more aircraft and additional facilities come online."
During the wildfire season, fire permits are required for activities like residential, industrial, or agricultural debris burning in forest protection areas (FPA)
"If you're doing any type of brush pile burning, burn barrels, that type of thing, specifically in the FPA, you'll need a fire permit. They are free, and they're online, so they can be issued quite easily."
Outside of FPAs, Drummond says to contact your local municipality to learn what's required.
While fire permits aren't required for campfires, they are a major cause of concern.
"It's a real problem in this part of the world," she says. "We see a lot of recreation fires, we see hundreds of improperly extinguished or abandoned campfires that our crews do need to find, and put out every year. It's a real challenge here, and we're hoping to see those numbers decrease this year."
In 2023, 61 per cent of wildfires were human-caused. In the southwest, most were abandoned campfires, but there's a rising concern about wildfires caused by both fireworks and exploding targets.
"Those items are restricted year-round without written permission, so you cannot go and set those off in the FRA of Alberta without getting written permission. We're starting to see an increase in wildfires being caused by those devices, and we don't want to see that trend continue."
The peak wildfire danger typically comes in May between when the snow disappears and green-up occurs.
"We did see that really good dump of snow last week, which was very welcomed in our business, but will really set the stage for this part of the province will be those late-season snow events. And then, of course, the spring rain."
"Historically, June is a wet month in southern Alberta," says Drummond. "We certainly saw that this past year. But throughout the season it just dried out, and over the summer months, the risk got high again through August, September, and October. And of course, we saw fire restrictions and fire bans in place with wildfires increasing."
Currently, active wildfires are primarily north of Edmonton, and all are listed as being under control.
There are some fire advisories and restrictions in place, and in the case of Three Hills, there's a fire ban. All three of the national parks in the Eastern Slopes, Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks have issued fire advisories.