Mild Winter Conditions Pose Problems as Alberta Wildfire Season Starts

Mild winter conditions could mean problems as Alberta wildfire season starts, with residents of Fort McMurray required to get a permit for burns as a result. Beginning in March and going through September all fires with the exception of campfires that are started outside of the Fort McMurray area will need a free permit that is issued by the forestry office. These permits will be necessary even inside of rural hamlets in the regions and the permits will help ensure that wildfires are not started. This makes 5 years running that the Alberta wildfire season has been started early, and this has been a result of the recommendations that were made after the 2011 Slave Lake fires were reviewed. According to the provincial Minister for Agriculture and Forestry press release the early start is needed to “more effectively monitor burning activities and also ensure thatour firefighters are well prepared to respond quickly.”

During the 2015 Alberta wildfire season mild winter conditions were also a factor, and the area saw 167 fires that burned or destroyed 138,000 hectares of woods and forests. A major El Nino pattern also plays a role in the fire risks, because when the temperatures and precipitation are unusual this can leave forests drier than normal and more susceptible to catch fire. University of Alberta Wildland Fire Partnership director Mike Flannigan explained “I want to underline the word potential…there’s the potential there for an early and active fire season. If one looks in the past, the last time we had a major El Nino was 97/98, and 98 was a very active fire year in Alberta. We’re setting up, the table is set, everything is primed for early and active fire season, but it depends on the day to day during the fire season. If we get some rain or showers every three to five days….we won’t have a fire problem.”

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