Fire danger in Fort McMurray goes from low to extreme in 3 days

Fort McMurray on May 3, 2017. Christine Meadows, Global News

The fire danger in Fort McMurray reached the extreme level on Friday, a stark contrast from the low to moderate level it was at just three days ago.

“This is how fast it can change,” Global Edmonton’s chief meteorologist Jesse Beyer said.

“With warm temperatures continuing, and no chance of showers until the end of the weekend, this is a situation to keep a close eye on.”

Fire danger is marked by how easy it is to ignite vegetation, how difficult a fire may be to control and how much damage a fire could do, according to Natural Resources Canada.

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READ MORE: ‘The Beast’ is still burning east of Fort McMurray 1 year later

If a fire started, it could have the potential to spread quickly and be very difficult to control, Natural Resources Canada says.

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Fire experts believe the risk to the actual townsite of Fort McMurray is low because last spring’s wildfire burned much of the surrounding forest, leaving little fuel for a potential fire to spread.

Grass fires could still be an issue, but they are less intense and easier to control.

“It’s warm, windy and very dry. So that’s why it’s extreme,” said Mike Flannigan, a professor with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta.

“But there won’t be a repeat of the big fire last year. There’s not enough fuel, there’s not the right type of fuel or that kind of intense crown fire that we saw last year because it already burned last year.

“It’ll take 15 to 20 years before the forest recovers enough to see a fire even coming close to what people saw last year near Fort McMurray.”

Alberta also updated its fire danger map on Friday, with several regions in northern Alberta listed in the high to extreme range.

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“The hazard is a little bit higher and there’s fire advisories in many of the forested areas of the province. That means we just want Albertans to be aware that it is hot, dry and windy out there and to take extra precautions while they’re out enjoying the forested areas,” said Jim Kerr, an Alberta wildfire information officer.

Kerr urged people to be cautious if having a campfire or using off-highway vehicles this weekend, as both could spark a wildfire.

“It’s really important to make sure that your campfire is fully extinguished before you leave. Soak it, stir it, soak it again is the message we use,” he said.

“When you’re riding your off-highway vehicles it’s important to stop and check your hotspots every now and then,” Kerr continued. “When dirt and debris builds up on your off-highway vehicle, that can cause a wildfire. The exhaust can heat up to over 200 C and so that can cause a spark. So just take those extra precautions.”

Wednesday marked one year since the entire Fort McMurray area was evacuated due to the wildfire now known as “The Beast.”

Temperatures in the Fort McMurray region are expected to reach the mid-20s Friday and cool down to 15 C with potential showers by Sunday.

Anyone who spots a wildfire is asked to call 310-FIRE.

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