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Wildfire researcher warns California disaster could happen in Alberta amid new fire ban

Click to play video: 'Dry, windy weather forces Wheatland County to issue fire ban' Dry, windy weather forces Wheatland County to issue fire ban
WATCH: The dry, windy weather in southern Alberta has forced Wheatland County to issue a fire ban. Gary Bobrovitz reports – Dec 13, 2017

A Wheatland County resident says a new fire ban has her concerned she could again be forced out of her home by a wildfire.

“I think there’s a strong possibility that could happen, it is incredibly dry out here and it has been all of 2017,” Michelle Brownlee told Global News on Tuesday.

Brownlee has been living in a motel with her two cats Buddy and Tippy since October when flames from an earlier wildfire damaged her Gleichen acreage.

Alberta’s Wheatland County has issued a fire ban effective as of noon Wednesday until further notice, citing an “extreme fire risk.”

“Permit burning in the county area is banned due to extreme dry, windy conditions,” reads the ban. All outstanding burning permits are suspended until further notice, according to Judy Unsworth, fire and emergency management coordinator for Wheatland County.

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READ MORE: Alberta wildfires 2017: Alberta government ready to help victims

She told Global News the ban will stay in effect until the area receives some moisture i.e. snow or rain. She said the ban could extend for weeks if necessary.

The ban comes as the fifth-largest wildfire in California history burns northwest of Los Angeles, keeping thousands out of their homes. It’s a frightening situation that could happen in southern Alberta, according to one wildfire researcher.

Edward Struzik, with the Queen’s University Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, says at this point in the southern Alberta season — with virtually no snow and above-average temperatures — the warm, dry conditions could combine with powerful Chinook winds to create a disaster.

“Imagine that you have a grass fire in the fall that follows a relatively cold period of time and suddenly a Chinook comes in over the Pacific that will carry that fire a long way,” he said. “It’s akin to what we have in the Santa Ana winds that are driving the California fires right now.”

High winds whipped flames in Wheatland County in the early fall and firefighters could barely control the blaze. Wildfires raced across the dry, grassy Prairie lands.

READ MORE: Siksika First Nation, Alberta’s Wheatland County declares state of emergency amid wildfire evacuation

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The burned-out area around Gleichen resident Michele Brownlee’s house is still visible months later. Repairs to her property and equipment are slowly happening; she’s been out of her house for 56 days.

Michelle Brownlee’s property, burned by fire in October, is seen here. Gary Bobrovitz/Global News

She wants the repairs to be completed quickly, but going back home also carries some concerns: the same wildfire conditions that existed in October are present again.

Watch below: Gary Bobrovitz spoke with Michele Brownlee in November, on the 23rd day she spent living in a hotel after her home was devastated by wildfire.

Click to play video: 'Wheatland County steps up to help farmers with uninsured losses during the October grassfires' Wheatland County steps up to help farmers with uninsured losses during the October grassfires
Wheatland County steps up to help farmers with uninsured losses during the October grassfires – Nov 8, 2017

About 100 kilometres west of Wheatland County, the M.D. of Foothills also imposed a fire advisory Wednesday, urging residents to be careful.

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“This means the M.D. will not issue any new burning permits, but existing permits will still be valid until their expiry date,” read an alert from the municipal district, citing higher than normal, dry temperatures in the forecast.

Officials said safe campfires are still allowed, but that could change if conditions worsen.

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