Wildfire season opens 10 days earlier than usual
The Alberta government has declared the start of the 2024 wildfire season, 10 days earlier than usual due to drought conditions in many areas of the province that could escalate if there isn't significant rain in spring. Albertans are urged to exercise extreme caution in forested areas and to avoid burning under warm, dry and windy conditions. It is also crucial that Albertans remain up to date on fire bans and restrictions in their areas to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires, which represented more than 60 per cent of wildfires this past season. It also means that fire permits will be required for burning within the Forest Protection Area, except for a campfire. "Wildfire prevention is a responsibility shared by all Albertans," states Bernie Schmitte, Alberta Wildfire executive director in a news release issued today. "I encourage everyone to follow FireSmart principles, to recreate responsibly while in or near forested areas, to obtain a fire permit prior to burning and to download the Alberta Wildfire app for up-to-date and accurate information.” Alberta is experiencing warmer than normal temperatures and below average precipitation in many areas of the province, leading to heightened wildfire risk. Declaring an earlier start to the season is expected to better direct resources to new and existing wildfires. It also provides additional measures to Alberta Wildfire, including the use of the fire ban and restriction system to help reduce human-caused wildfires in response to hazardous conditions. Forestry and Parks is seeking approval to hire 100 additional firefighters in the province's 2024 budget. If passed, it will result in five additional 20-person crews. Heather Sweet, Alberta NDP critic for Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development says the government is already behind with today’s announcement. “Even though the government knew there were active wildfires burning underground over the winter, the UCP laid off wildland firefighters for the season and waited until the beginning of the 2024 wildfire season to start hiring with no training time," states Sweet. "There are currently 54 wildfires burning in the province, and with extreme drought expected we know that this year's wildfire season has the potential to be worse than 2023." The province is coming off a wildfire season the province declared to be 10 times worse than normal. By the end of last October, there had been a total of 1,094 wildfires and a record 2,214,957 hectares burned. Active fires continued to smolder over the dry winter, predominantly Edmonton north. Over 38,000 people were evacuated from their homes last year due to wildfire. "We are behind on training and staffing, and the UCP’s lack of preparation hampers our first responders' ability to effectively handle wildfire, especially in an era when climate change is only going to make wildfire seasons more unpredictable," believes Sweet. Fire advisory are currently in effect in Banff National Park, Foothills County and several other southern Alberta counties extending to the American border. The government encourages all Albertans to become familiar with FireSmart principles and to take an active role in wildfire prevention and mitigation by preparing their properties and communities accordingly. The seven disciplines of the FireSmart program include: public education, interagency cooperation, cross-training, emergency planning, development, legislation, and vegetation management. Last September, an extensive FireSmart program of Cochrane Fire Services was approved by town council covering 131 hectares of land, broken into 11 units. Later that fall, it was awarded funding from the Forest Resource Improvement Assoc. of Alberta (FRIAA) to start implementing the plan by completing vegetation management on 9.3 hectares of land south of the Bow River. Three units with considerable coniferous components were identified as priority areas, which will be treated by thinning, pruning, and mulching to reduce hazardous fuels. Aspen and Bur Oak will be planted on two units after the vegetation treatment. The Greater Bragg Creek Resident Branch Collection Project also received funding to offer three chipping events in June, July and August 2024 to assist the property owners and tenants in removing wildfire fuel loads from their properties. FireSmart open houses were approved for both the summer villages of Ghost Lake and Waiparous.