Alberta Wildfire officials prepare for what could be a busy summer

Dry conditions and strong winds across the province have kept firefighters busy.

Officials say conditions now are fitting for a bad wildfire season, unless we see significant rainfall through the spring.

Since the wildfire season has started March 1, Alberta has had just over 30 wildfires.

Currently there are eight fire bans in the province – all in southern Alberta – and over 25 fire advisories.

Melissa Story, a provincial information officer with Alberta Wildfire, said in an interview with CTV News Edmonton that the number of wildfires figure is on par with the five-year average. 

Story said that there were “average” amounts of precipitation in most parts of the province this year, except the Fort McMurray, Whitecourt, and Edson forest areas who only saw 50 per cent of the average level of precipitation.

“We are definitely taking care and focusing on those areas,” she said. “Definitely there are dry conditions out there.”

On Thursday a grass fire ignited an area west of Cochrane and March 28 saw a large grass fire near the southern Alberta village of Carmangay damage over 5,000 hectares of land. 

Regardless of where Albertans are visiting or enjoying the outdoors, Story said everyone should remain vigilant and take care of their campfires, barbecues, or off-road vehicles.

“We ask anybody who is out in a forested area just to take caution. Dry, dead grass can ignite quickly and fires can spread really quickly.”

When asked about what type of fire season Albertans can expect, Story said spring rainfall amounts will determine what kind of wildfire season the province will have this year.

“This is the time period where we take most of our caution,” she said.

“Until the ground gets enough moisture and the trees start to green up we see dead and dry grass that can ignite quickly and wildfires can spread.”

Since there is little lighting this time of year, Story said the vast majority of fires that spring up around this time of year are human-caused.

“Those are 100 per cent preventable,” Story said.

According to Story, last year 88 per cent of wildfires in Alberta were human-caused.

Story encouraged Albertans to ensure they monitor fire bans, never leave a campfire unattended, and put campfires out properly. 

“Campfires can burn underground and smoulder,” Story said.

“Soak them, stir them then soak them again to make sure that it’s completely extinguished.”

Leaving a campfire unattended can land you a $600 fine.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson