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Despite rain in some areas, wildfire risk in northwestern Alberta remains extreme

Click to play video: 'Alberta wildfire danger set to spike: Officials'
Alberta wildfire danger set to spike: Officials
Alberta wildfire danger set to spike: Officials – May 9, 2024

While rain and cooler temperatures earlier this week have suppressed the wildfire risk in some parts of Alberta, officials are warning that that’s not the case for the entire province. With temperatures set to warm up this weekend, Albertans are being warned that the danger in the northwest is still extreme.

“Thanks to cooler temperatures and precipitation in many areas of the province, the wildfire danger is now low to moderate throughout much of Alberta,” Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen said during a provincial wildfire update Thursday morning.

Current wildfire situation

There are currently 40 wildfires burning in the province’s forest protection area, with three of those being held and the rest under control. There are no wildfires in Alberta currently listed as out of control.

The current situation is a stark difference from this time last year. So far this year, wildfires have burned 9,197 hectares of land. At this time last year, more than 260,000 hectares had burned.

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“Spring rain is one of the largest factors in what kind of season we’re going to see,” Alberta Wildfire information unit manager Christie Tucker said. “At this point last year, we were far, far ahead of where we are now. We had seen already more amounts of area burned than we would see in an entire season at this point.”

Click to play video: '730 wildfires reported across Canada so far this year'
730 wildfires reported across Canada so far this year

‘Conditions are about to change’ in some parts of Alberta

While the current conditions in most areas are welcome, Tucker warned of the potential for things to change quickly, particularly in northwestern Alberta.

Fire restrictions are in place for areas of northern Alberta, and fire bans are currently in place in the Grande Prairie forest area.

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“With temperatures rising rapidly over the next couple of days, we’re about to see a spike in wildfire danger in those areas of the province that haven’t had as much rain,” Tucker stressed.

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“Conditions are about to change.”

Officials are expecting low humidity, high temperatures and gusty winds in northwestern Alberta this weekend. Those conditions will increase the wildfire danger and can cause a wildfire spread quickly.

“We are increasing our caution for this weekend particularly in those areas that didn’t get as much rain, around the Peace and Grande Prairie region,” Tucker said.

“It’s not a safe time to have outdoor wood fires. You need to be aware of what restrictions, and what you can and cannot do under a fire ban, and to respect those because you don’t want to be the person who starts a wildfire in that area this weekend.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Wildfires: How to prepare for evacuation'
Alberta Wildfires: How to prepare for evacuation

Tucker said it’s not just the current lack of precipitation leading to the increased wildfire danger in the region. She said the region has been in a drought situation for the past year.

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“There are many months of built-up dry fuels in that area, and they didn’t receive the amount of rain to cause relief that we saw, fortunately, in many other areas of the province,” she said.

The regional fire chief for the County of Grande Prairie Regional Fire Services said they are prepared for the potential increase in wildfire activity this weekend. They’ve brought in extra staff and have equipment on standby.

“We have seven rural response stations – very similar to your traditional volunteer – they’re not staffed,” Trevor Grant said.  “You have to call people in. And for tomorrow and Saturday, we’ve actually been able to staff up those stations for a response during the peak burn times.”

Those hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“We will have people out the door in less than two minutes, whereas typically we would have to wait for people to come in from their homes or their jobs, and that’s five to 10 minutes. So just increasing that response time and being able to get people out,” Grant said.

Extra staff are also being brought in to the staffed fire stations.

Click to play video: 'Fires, floods and more: How to prepare for emergencies'
Fires, floods and more: How to prepare for emergencies

Grant urges anyone who sees smoke to call 911 immediately.

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“If we can keep those fires small, they’re much easier to handle when they’re small than when they do get large.”

There is not currently an ATV/UTV ban in place in the region. Grant urges people using recreational vehicles to make sure they have spark arresters and that they’re cleaning off hot exhaust.

“Everybody’s got to take that little bit extra right now. The conditions are still bad in our area,” Grant said.

For the latest information on which areas in Alberta are under an evacuation alert or order due to a wildfire, visit the Alberta Emergency Alert website.

For the latest information on the wildfire status and danger across the province, visit the Alberta Wildfire website.

The latest information on fire advisories, restrictions and bans across the province can be found on the Alberta fire bans website.

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