The town of Edson was evacuated due to wildfire south of its boundaries in May 2023. | Alberta WildfireScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Wildfire season has begun 10 days earlier than usual following an announcement form the Alberta government on Tuesday afternoon.

“The first priority of Alberta’s government will always be to ensure Albertans and their communities stay safe,” said Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen during the press conference.

“Although last year’s wildfire season ended last November, we have never stopped working to increase our understanding of the nature of wildfire and fine-tune our ability to respond.”

In addition to advancing the wildfire season up from its usual annual start date of March 1, Loewen also announced that he has put in a request for funding 100 additional wildland firefighting personnel in Alberta’s upcoming budget, which is expected to be tabled on Feb. 29.

If approved, that would be bring the total number up from its current 900 to 1,000. Loewen said that Alberta’s current contingent of 900 will be ready by April 15, and if approved, those extra firefighters would be expected on the ground by May 15.

Loewen added that fire permits are now required for burning within Alberta’s Forest Protection Areas. This will allow the province to both better manage wildfire risks and to increase the level of protection in these areas, reducing the likelihood of new human-caused wildfires.

“I know Albertans are feeling uneasy about the risks posed to their homes, communities, and daily lives. I understand these concerns and I share them as someone whose home was near the forest and was threatened by wildfire in 2023.”

Since the end of the 2023 wildfire season on Oct. 31, the province has been engaged in enhancing wildfire prevention efforts, preparedness, response and mitigation tactics.

Preparations for the 2024 wildfire season have been underway for months, and there are currently enough personnel (including firefighters and support staff) ready to respond to wildfires wherever they occur in Alberta. All contracts for additional personnel have also been secured.

Recruitment and training are ongoing, and capacity will continue to increase as we get further into the wildfire season. Enhanced nighttime wildfire operations will also be employed this year, while also ensuring the availability of water bombers, aircraft and heavy equipment.

“This year, we are confident in our ability to respond to wildfires across our landscape,” Loewen said.

The province has also expanded opportunities for citizens to support wildland firefighting operations. He encouraged any Albertan with relevant training, expertise or heavy equipment is encouraged to contact their local Forest Area office to learn more about how they can support wildfire efforts this season.

“Wildfire prevention is a responsibility shared by all Albertans,” said Alberta Wildfire executive director Bernie Schmitte.

“I encourage everyone to follow FireSmart principles, to recreate responsibly while in or near forested areas, to obtain a fire permit prior to burning and to download the Alberta Wildfire app for up-to-date and accurate information.”

Alberta spent 2023 dealing with its worst wildfire season ever, with 2.2 million hectares of land burned. With the province experiencing a very dry winter leading to an expectation of a severe drought in 2024, Albertans should exercise extreme caution in forested areas and to avoid burning under warm, dry and windy conditions. 

Albertans are also asked to remain up to date on fire bans and restrictions in their areas to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires, which represented more than 60 per cent of wildfires last year.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 20, 2024 at 15:20

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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