Tinder-dry conditions in southern Alberta have created an extreme fire risk in areas south of the Red Deer River, Alberta Forestry warns as another long weekend approaches.
“The forests throughout the mountain areas and the southern half of the province are quickly becoming tinder dry,” Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier said on Tuesday.
The province said has restricted recreational vehicle use in forested areas.
“Off highway vehicles can cause wildfire when debris is caught up in the hotspots of the vehicle around the wheel wells and the exhaust,” Carlier said. “Becoming superheated, dropping down and starting a wildfire.”
On July 19, Carlier ordered a fire ban in southern Alberta forests. About a week later, the department expanded the ban to all forest areas south of the Red Deer River.
Since then, Carlier said, southern Alberta hasn’t received any significant rain that would improve dry conditions.
The province expects the wildfire hazard to increase over the long weekend.
Driest conditions since 2003
Conditions haven’t been this dry since 2003, Carlier said, when the Lost Creek Wildfire burned 20,000 hectares of forest and threatened homes in the Crowsnest Pass.
“That fire started late in the summer, and the conditions resemble the ones we are seeing right now,” Carlier said. “We need to do everything that we can to prevent that type of fire from happening again.”
Alberta Forestry manager Chad Morrison said the province has 200 wildfire fighters in the Calgary area on standby and another 600 across the province ready to lend a hand.
The 200 firefighters the province sent to fight wildfires in B.C. are ready to be recalled as well.
The province said it is implementing recommendations and lessons learned from the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire as it prepares for extreme conditions. Those improvements call for earlier and less-chaotic community evacuations.
“The province has already begun the work to ensure the municipalities have clear evacuation guidelines,” said Scott Long, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.