Campground operators are worried more Albertans will forgo camping trips this Victoria Day long weekend because they won’t be able to have a fire.
The government issued a province-wide fire ban on May 5 due to extremely dry conditions and because so many firefighting resources were being used to battle the Fort McMurray blaze. It was revised a few days later. There is also a ban on the recreational use of off-highway vehicles due to their fire risk.
Without those options, some people are opting out of camping and looking for other long weekend activities instead.
Buck Lake Campground in Wetaskiwin County is usually buzzing ahead of the May long weekend.
Romelda and Stan McComb are the park attendants. They said by this time most years, nearly all of the 34 camp sites are spoken for, with people eager to secure a long weekend camping spot. But, that’s not the case this year.
“Usually by this time, we’ve got people in setting up for the weekend,” Romelda said. “They want to get here and get the best site, get set up for fishing.”
Only a handful of sites are full and Romelda thinks a nearly province-wide fire ban is to blame.
“It’s looking pretty grim right now. These are our first campers we’ve had in since we’ve been here.”
Romelda said customers have called to ask about open fires and she has had to break the bad news.
“‘Do you think we’ll be able to have a fire?’ I don’t know, Mother Nature is the only person that can help us there, so it doesn’t look like it,” she has to tell them.
The wood pile at the campground hasn’t even been stocked. With such dry conditions in the area, the county has had a fire ban in place since mid April.
“Camping is not camping without a bonfire, you know?”
Petra Marshall and her family came anyway to set up camp, but Marshall admits it’s just not the same without a camp fire.
“I wish we could have a fire,” Marshall said. “Normally we have a fire rolling all day long so it’s weird to not have it.
“The marshmallows I brought are kind of a waste, but we’re going to play and fish and try enjoy it anyway.”
Marshall’s two-year-old son Silas doesn’t understand the seriousness of the extreme fire risk.
“The fire is not on,” he remarked.
This is the driest the McCombs have ever seen the region. They’ve been taking care of the Buck Lake campground since 2007.
“I’ve never seen it this dry,” Romelda said. “Our grass here is usually green. Now it’s brown. We can’t even mow.”
The fire ban applies to Alberta’s Forest Protection Area in northern and central Alberta and all counties, municipal districts and special areas, as well as provincial parks and recreation areas. The fire ban does not apply to cities, towns, villages, summer villages, or federal lands, such as national parks. However, a county or municipality may decide to add additional restrictions or their own ban.
Parks Canada says the only national park with a fire ban in effect is Elk Island.
The bans do not apply to agricultural, commercial or industrial use, the province said. Nor does it apply to Indigenous people using off-highway vehicles for farming, business operations or traditional use.