Extremely dry and windy spring conditions have raised the risk of wildfires.
“It is very very dry this spring because of a lack of accumulation of snow,” says fire chief Ken Melnyk, who has served on the fire department since 1982.
“I haven’t seen it this dry this early in spring before.”
“Usually we still have snow on the ground.”
The wildfire hazard was “extreme” for the Slave Lake Forest Area as of April 22.
A small wildfire north of Prairie Echo on private land burned less than one hectare on April 20 and was under control within hours, says Leah Lovequist, wildfire information officer for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development for Slave Lake Forest Area.
Wind ignited an underground fire from winter burns, she says.
“All fires have been human-caused and the majority are winter holdover fires,” Lovequist says.
“Fires have burrowed underground.”
She urges property owners to check their winter burns to ensure they are extinguished.
“All fire permits are suspended,” says Big Lakes fire chief Leo Tobin.
“People can have cooking fires in their yards in a closed container.”
Without needed rain, and predicting a long season of wildfires, he is already preparing fire crews.
“I’m upgrading the fire halls with wildfire equipment such as water backpacks,” says Tobin.
Over the past several weeks, crews battled six minor grass fires that were promptly contained, he says.
Both the town and county fire departments have conducted prescribed burns to reduce any potential hazards in populated areas.
“We usually do our controlled burns in May, so we’re a month early,” Melnyk says.
“With no leaves and no green grass, it is very dangerous.”
Fire chiefs agree rain is desperately needed.
“If we could get a week of rain, it would give enough moisture to bring the fire hazard down and green the grass so it wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous,” Melnyk says.
“We need about three to four days of steady rain,” Tobin says.
However, he says snow is more crucial than rain.
“Snow is our best friend because it sinks into the ground,” Tobin says.
Rain can mostly run off.
Wind is a problem because its dries up the grasses, more so than sunshine and heat, he says.
Fire chiefs advise people to be cautious outdoors.
Broken glass on the ground can spark a fire from the sun.
For any questions, phone Tobin at 780-776-0007 Monday to Friday during the days and 780-523-8778 evenings and weekend.
For town residents, phone Melnyk at 780-523-3525 (office).
Call 310-FIRE (3473) immediately to report a wildfire.