Much of southern and central Manitoba is seeing tinder-dry conditions this spring, fueling the risk of wildfires.
“I don’t think it’s exaggerating to call it a drought,” Environment & Climate Change Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told Global News. “We don’t like to use that word, we like to say it’s dryness. But boy, it doesn’t matter what sector you’re looking at or how you define it, this is about as dry as it can get.”
Phillips said with the exception of February’s polar vortex, this past winter saw record-breaking mild temperatures and minimal precipitation, and much of the province is seeing less than 40 per cent of normal precipitation. He also says its a pattern seen in the Prairies over the last number of years.
“It’s like a mega-drought,” Phillips said. “It’s something that’s not just a season, it’s not just even half a year. We’re seeing dry conditions that have gone on for three years and in some places across the Prairies four years in a row.”
The province recently implemented level two travel restrictions across much of southwestern and eastern Manitoba, prohibiting motorized vehicles like ATVs from backcountry travel and restricting camping to designated campsites only.
John Fleming, the municipal emergency coordinator for the Rural Municipality of Lac du Bonnet, says there are tinder-dry conditions in cottage country this year.
“At freeze-up the water levels were very low and over the winter our snow load was minimal. Environment Canada says we had 25 per cent of normal precipitation and the fifth driest winter in 100 years,” Fleming said.
“It is dry, the areas where there is normally flooding – creeks, bogs, beaver dams, that kind of thing – it is very dry. Until we get the countryside greening up, the fire fuel is very available.”
Fleming says they want visitors to take extra precautions, and do their research ahead of time to know fire and travel restrictions in the area.
“No one wants to come out on a recreational trip and cause a fire, these things are preventable,” he said.
“If we accept the risk and play smart, then we won’t cause any needless fires. This time of year the fire department is very vigilant, but it’s a volunteer fire department, their resources are not endless by any means. We’ve already seen in southern Manitoba and in the west where their rural fire departments are stretched with these grass fires that are preventable incidents.”
Despite the dry conditions with little rain in the forecast, Phillips said conditions could still turn around, as Manitoba sees about 50 per cent of its annual precipitation from April to July.
“Sometimes you could get a snow, a late-spring snow,” Phillips said.
“That would be white gold to the province.”