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Alberta's outlook heading into wildfire season

Last Updated Apr 4, 2021 at 11:09 am MDT

CALGARY (CityNews) — The wildfire season in Alberta used to begin April 1, but the season has been moved up to the start of March.

With several grass fires in the past week, some Albertans might wonder if their plans for summer are going up in smoke.

Mike Flannigan is a professor with the department of renewable resources and director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at the University of Alberta.

He says that as the snow melts and reveals plant debris underneath, it becomes easier for a fire to start.

“We are the only jurisdiction in Canada with May as the busiest month, over half of our area burns on average occur in May,” said Flannigan.

“They are mostly human-caused, but long term we are seeing more area burnt due to lightning-caused fires in the summer — and not just in Alberta, but all across Western and Northern Canada.”

Since Mar. 22, at least seven new wildfires have been reported in forest protection areas in Alberta.

To combat the situation, fire bans have been put in place for a number of regions, including Lethbridge, Rockyview County and Cochrane.

Chief Sue Henry of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency says that the recent grass fires are a reminder to be cautious with the dry conditions.

“We saw a couple of grass fires coming through Calgary itself on Thursday, as well as the surrounding area,” said Henry. “It’s a great reminder to be incredibly careful until we start to see things green up.”

Chief Henry added that while the situation is being monitored within the city, there is no fire ban currently in effect in Calgary.

Alberta Wildfire is deploying new technology this season to help in the firefight, including the use of remote cameras, drones, and satellite technology.

Flannigan says that tools like these help to monitor the spread of wildfires to nearby communities.

“Whether it is a drone, or a plane, or a satellite, anything that gives us timely information so that we can make informed and appropriate decisions on what to do with a wildfire,” he said.

Flannigan thinks back to the fires that have destroyed entire communities in the province, including the Slave Lake fire in 2011, Fort McMurray in 2016, and the 2019 Chuckegg Creek fire near High Level.

“We really have to be vigilant or we could see more fire interacting with communities.”

Alberta Wildfire encourages Albertans to check for updated information on nearby fires, fire bans, and fire dangers using the Wildfire Status app and FireSmart Alberta.