Fire season opened one month early in Alberta this year, starting officially on March 1 rather than the typical April 1.
Duncan MacDonnell, spokesperson for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said while the move is not unprecedented, it is rare, and reflects the dangerous weather conditions faced earlier in the year.
“The reason we did it this time is that we monitor the weather patterns and moisture content in the soil throughout the winter, so we’ve got a forecast for what to expect on any given day that we pick, and what we found by January was that there was not a lot of moisture in the ground,” he said. “At that time we were looking at an April 1 fire season start with about 50 per cent of the normal moisture level in the ground, and a lot of that was in the North.”
The early start to the season meant the government positioned resources, such as field crews and air tankers, at fire bases a month in advance.
Moisture levels went back to normal by April, though, after some late snowfall in March hit the area. Still, small wildfires have been sprouting up throughout the province. There have been approximately 120 wildfires in Alberta since the beginning of March, each burning about one hectare. Fourteen remained as of last week, under control.
“Right now, it’s a low fire hazard rating across virtually the entire province,” MacDonnell said. “But all it takes is just a couple of days of warm, dry weather and this forest can dry out that quickly, and your low hazard rating can go to high or extreme within less than a week.”