It’s hot and dry, and a fire ban is in effect across Alberta heading into the weekend many outdoor enthusiasts see as the unofficial start to the summer camping season.
That has provincial officials pleading with people to be smart and obey fire bans and off-road vehicle restrictions, even if it puts a damper on their May long weekend plans.
“Don’t be responsible for starting a new wildfire,” Alberta Wildfire information unit manager Christie Tucker said Thursday, reiterating her message all week that this weekend traditionally is when the province sees fires ramp up due to human activity — but this is no normal year.
“We are testing the record book on almost every measure,” Tucker said.
“We have seen more fires in number and significantly more area burned than we would see on average. We’ve seen unusual conditions. We’ve seen unusual numbers of firefighters needed.”
The fire danger is extreme in northern Alberta and high throughout almost all of the rest of the province.
Significant forest fires started nearly a month earlier than normal in Alberta and for almost three weeks now, the situation has just gotten worse.
So far this year, 487 fires have burned 765,000 hectares of land across the province — numbers Alberta Wildfire said Thursday were extraordinary.
“The fires and the conditions that we saw at the end of April, beginning of May have led to a significant amount of area burned here in the province, far more than we would have on an average season,” Tucker said, adding it hasn’t been just one or two big fires as has been the case in past years.
“There are a lot of things that are different about this year. That’s why we have to take extraordinary measures to bring in extra help in order to keep the situation under control.”
Alberta wildfire: This season is ‘testing the record book on an on almost every measure’
A fire ban and an off-highway vehicle restriction are in place across the forest protection area, which runs along the foothills and Rocky Mountains, and all of northern Alberta’s boreal forest.
“That means wood fires are prohibited on public and private land, including in backyards,” said Forestry, Parks and Tourism Minister Todd Loewen during Thursday’s daily fire update.
Loewen said the OHV restriction applies to more than just recreational vehicles like quads, dirt bikes and side-by-sides.
“This restriction includes any motorized vehicle designed to go beyond roadways, including Jeeps and pickup trucks.
“I know this is disappointing for many, but it is necessary to reduce the risk of wildfire.”
Albertans are asked this weekend to restrict recreation activities on public land in northwest Alberta due to wildfire risk.
That includes near Edson, Grande Prairie, High Level, Peace River, Slave Lake and Whitecourt.
It also applies to the Rocky Mountain House backcountry north of Highway 11. Outdoor recreation, including backcountry camping, mountain biking and hiking, is not recommended.
Some areas have been directly affected by wildfire, the province said Thursday, while others are at risk due to their proximity to active wildfires and forecasted conditions.
Several provincial parks, provincial recreation areas and campgrounds in areas where the fire danger is high are also closed:
- Young’s Point Provincial Park
- Williamson Provincial Park
- Smoke Lake Provincial Recreation Area
- Saskatoon Island Provincial Park
- Winagami Lake Provincial Park
- Brazeau Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area
- Two Lakes Provincial Park
- Iosegun Lake Provincial Recreation Area
- Waskahigan River Provincial Recreation Area
- Blue Rapids Provincial Recreation Area
- Minnow Lake Provincial Recreation Area
- Wolf Lake West Provincial Recreation Area
Several other provincial sites are being monitored and more closures may be announced over the coming days.
Campers with reservations in affected areas will receive a refund, the province said.
“These restrictions and closures are in place until further notice,” Loewen said. “The wildfire situation is changing daily and we are committed to making decisions that protect the safety of Albertans.”
The province said conservation officers will be increasing patrols to ensure compliance with active wildfire-related restrictions, closures and fire bans.
Not obeying the restrictions or fire bans could result in penalties, including fines.
“I know that for many of us, this weekend is traditionally spent outdoors with family and friends,” Loewen said. “While some outdoor activities can continue, we are asking Albertans to stay safe and take precautions to reduce the risk of wildfire.
“It might not seem like it, but your actions this weekend will make a difference.”
In addition to having more conservation officers patrolling in affected areas, staff will be out educating Albertans and reinforcing public safety measures.
The reminder of heightened safety measures comes as more than 10,000 Albertans remain under evacuation orders because of nearly 100 wildfires burning across the province.
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