Conditions dry across the province as Alberta wildfire season ramps up

Click to play video: 'Alberta fire crews on alert as 2023 wildfire season ramps up'
Alberta fire crews on alert as 2023 wildfire season ramps up
Spring isn’t the only thing in the air: while avalanche risk remains in the mountain, wildfire season is also well underway and preparations are being made in anticipation of fighting blazes. Cami Kepke has more on what experts expect from the 2023 season – Apr 24, 2023

It’s an intimidating force, but a familiar one in Alberta.

Wildfire season sees vast blue skies choked out by smoke, the rolling foothills swallowed up by flames and firefighters — on the ground and in the air — beating it back.

Click to play video: 'Wildfire season is off to an early start in southern B.C.'
Wildfire season is off to an early start in southern B.C.

The wildfire season runs from March 1 to Oct. 31 in Alberta. According to the provincial government, nearly all spring wildfires are human-caused, making them 100 per cent preventable.

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For now, crews across the province are bracing for what 2023 could bring.

“This time of year can be very challenging,” wildlife information officer Anastasia Drummond said.

“After the snow has melted, we’ve got a lot of dead standing grass. Should a wildfire ignite in that kind of situation it can grow very quickly and can be challenging to contain so we watch it very closely.

Already in the Edmonton area, firefighters have been responding to grass and brush fires in recent weeks. On Monday, a neighbourhood was evacuated for a few hours when flames from a grass fire crept close to homes.

Click to play video: 'Grass fire in northwest Edmonton creeps close to homes'
Grass fire in northwest Edmonton creeps close to homes

In the meantime, more than 400 wildland firefighters and 300 seasonal support staff are training, completing controlled burns and opening facilities like air tanker and fires bases in case they’re called into action.

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The Calgary forest area saw 165 wildfires in 2022.

While a relatively small amount of land burned, Drummond says most of those fires were preventable.

“It can be anything from improperly extinguished to outright abandoned fires,” Drummond added.

“Pick any long weekend in the summer and we’ll see 30, 40, 50 abandoned campfires. At that, we have an emerging trend of fireworks and exploding targets that are igniting wildfires.”

Fireworks and exploding targets are prohibited in forest protection areas with prior approval.

The forest protection area encompasses most of northern Alberta’s Boreal forest, as well as the western foothills and mountains outside the national parks — the province said the FPA represents the geographic areas concerned with the prevention and control of damage to forests from fire, insects, disease and other harmful agents.

Last season, the province said it had 1,246 wildfires that had burned over 130,000 hectares, compared to the five-year average of 1,100 wildfires burning over 190,000 hectares.

“This was a relatively average season for us, with numbers slightly above the five-year average for number of wildfires but fewer hectares burned,” Wildlife information officer Melissa Story said in a statement.

“Last year, 61 per cent of wildfires were human-caused and completely preventable.”

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The Calgary area did see a solid amount of precipitation throughout the winter months, but Global News meteorologist Tiffany Lizee warns those conditions have quickly evaporated.

“We don’t have a whole lot of moisture in the soil and that’s a big problem when it comes to wildfire season,” Lizee said. “In Calgary in April, we’ve been abnormally dry. But if you look to the north of us, it’s been exceptionally dry.

She said there is some good news though.

“May does look like it will be a little bit wetter for much of Alberta and that should help improve those wildfire conditions.”

As of Monday, there have been 134 wildfires in Alberta this year —64 of which were sparked in the last week.

While all of those fires are under control or have been extinguished, experts urge Albertans to take extra care in dry conditions.

“It’s early in the season but we know people are starting to get out,” Drummond said.

“If you do have a campfire, soak it, stir it, soak it again and remember that those fireworks and exploding targets are prohibited.”

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A grass fire near Edmonton’s Albany neighbourhood, near Anthony Henday Drive and 127 Street, on Monday, April 24, 2023. Courtesy: Dustin Strazza

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