The largest wildfire in Alberta last season remains listed as under control by officials and requires a final mop-up before it's considered extinguished.
The man-caused Devil's Head wildfire, about 20 km west of Benchlands, scorched 2,420 hectares of forest. Wildfire crews left the area when snowfall arrived on Thanksgiving weekend.
The fire wasn't deemed extinguish at the time but has been continued to be monitored by wildfire officials and hasn't grown in size, says Christie Tucker, information unit lead for Alberta Wildfire.
"I know our team is out there checking the fire today. When the snow melts, they're going to be able to really do an in-depth survey of the fire," says Tucker.
They'll be focusing attention on the east end of the fire where there's the most growth potential. To the west is mountainous terrain with limited fuel.
"If they see some areas that show some concern, there are a bit hot temperatures that they think might flare up, they'll be able to deal with that right away, because we'll have crews coming on very shortly and our firefighters are going to be able to knock that down so it doesn't get out of control."
In mid-September, the blaze was discovered and determined to be man-caused. With dry conditions and high winds, the fire flared up in early October. At one point, some residents of the Municipal District of Bighorn were asked to be prepared to evacuate.
The 2021 wildfire opened yesterday and continues until the end of Oct. 31. That means permits are now required for activities such as residential, industrial, or agricultural debris burning.
The wildfire hazard is highest in the spring months when fuels like trees and grass have extremely low moisture content after the snow has melted and evaporated.
"As we know, the seasons can turn pretty quickly, and that snow can melt over the course of a few days if you get a lot of warm weather, so that makes it a dangerous time for the start of wildfires."
Tucker says there hasn't been much precipitation in southern Alberta this winter and Environment Canada is predicting dry conditions for April.
That could be reason for concern.
"April is a very important month. Snow is one thing, but the most important thing when you're looking at wildfires in Alberta is how much rain you get in April. That spring rain is so important to the kind of wildfire season that we have."
The value of last April's rainfall is reflected in the wildfire statistics.
In 2020, Alberta saw 704 wildfires burn just over 3,269 hectares (8,068 acres). That’s less than one per cent of the total area burned when compared to the five-year average.
The majority of these fires were human-caused.
"Last year, 88 per cent of the wildfires we saw here in the province were caused by man activity. I know most of those aren't intentional, but you don't want to be the one person whose behaviour has accidentally caused a wildfire."
In comparison, 996 fires in 2019 burned 883,414 ha, four times more than the five-year average. There wasn't much rain in April that year.
"The real danger is if we don't get enough rain, that dry grass, and those dry trees stay around a lot longer, and we get those strong spring winds and dry conditions that make it just ripe for wildlife in areas where we live and recreate."
Already fire advisories are in place in Banff and Jasper national parks as well as Chestermere.
To find out if there are any restrictions in place because of wildfire hazards, check here for the latest information.