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Fire restriction continues amid high fire risk

Posted on August 3, 2023 by admin

By Erika Mathieu
Westwind Weekly News

Lethbridge County remains under a fire restriction despite precipitation and cooler overnight temperatures last week.

Aiming to mitigate the increased risk of fire spread in the area, the County enacted a fire restriction on July 21, noting the hot and dry weather conditions were expected to persist into the following week. 

The County is urging residents to stay informed, cautioning that the fire restriction may be escalated to a fire ban with a moment’s notice.

Under the current fire restriction, active fire and fireworks permits have been canceled, and no new permits will be issued until further notice. However, recreational campfires, including those in campground and backyard fire pits, and acceptable incinerators which are in compliance with the County’s Fire Bylaw are permitted. Specific criteria for acceptable fire pits can be found online at https://lethcounty.ca/p/fire-permits. A fire restriction also permits fluid or gas-fuelled cooking or heating appliances such as propane-fuelled fire rings, BBQs or stoves are permitted under a fire restriction.

The Fire Restriction has been enforced in order to prevent wildfires, which pose risks to public safety and can lead to mandatory evacuation orders, property damage, compromised air quality, and road closures.

The County emphasized the importance of taking necessary precautions: “Given the projected high temperatures and absence of expected precipitation in the coming days, we anticipate an escalation in wildfire risk. We kindly request the public’s cooperation in remaining aware of this risk and actively working to prevent fires.”

In order to minimize the possibility of fire incidents, residents are advised to refrain from discarding cigarette butts into ditches or dry grass, and remain vigilant while enjoying recreational fire pits, and ensure fires are completely extinguished and never left unattended. Additionally, with harvest activities commencing, the danger of fires in the field has increased and it is crucial to have a water truck readily available and always promptly call 911 in the event of a fire. Thorough equipment inspections before use, including the removal of debris, can prevent sparks from igniting and spreading wildfires.

Byron Fraser, the Fire Services Manager for Lethbridge County, explained that warm early spring and summer temperatures have direct implications for the duration and severity of the summer fire season. 

“The dry warm weather slows the green up of the fuels (grass, trees, shrubs) so the fire danger is substantially higher. Thus creating an extreme start to the fire season. Fuels are primed and ready for burning.”

Although the early season hot weather exacerbates fire risk for the summer months, Fraser said the updated fire permit program, which launched in 2022, has been an effective tool for monitoring and issuing permits. 

“Our bylaw officer is actually slower in regard to fire-related infractions. (The) reason has nothing to do with the weather. The new program allows people to more easily apply for permits, at any time of day or week, so we have less people trying to get away without a permit. Having the permit allows us to monitor the burning that is going on.”

In addition to the ability to more closely monitor burning through the permitting system, Fraser said he has taken on a more active presence being out in the community to help educate people.

“We are trying to move to a very heavy education mind set which in turn prevents fires and prevents infractions,” adding a more visible presence has had an impact. 

“Just being seen less people are willing to take the risk.” 

Fraser said statistically, the number of fires is lower during the summer months, “for the most part,” because cool, wet springs help cultivate greener pastures. 

“This year a bit of a different story because of the dry hot weather. We have been pretty busy over the last couple weeks as it is crazy dry and the fuels are curing quickly. On a normal year we actually normally have more of a fire season in the spring and fall before and after things green up.”

For some people, it may be surprising to learn that the winter months can be a busy time for fires, particularly if there is not sufficient snow cover to protect fields from high winds and cured fuels in grass. 

This year has been busier in the summer months than it traditionally is and yet it is most definitely due to the high heats with low moisture as well as the hot dry spring.

While weather conditions are known to change rapidly in southern Alberta, Fraser said fire crews will likely be in for an even busier autumn than usual.

“I would bet that this fall could be even busier than fall normally is.” 

Province-wide information on fire restrictions and bans can be accessed at https://albertafirebans.ca/. For specific information about Lethbridge County, visit https://lethcounty.ca/p/fire-bans.

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