A fire so large it was nicknamed “The Beast”, the wildfire in Fort McMurray started in May 2016, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in this province’s history. It destroyed approximately 2,400 homes and buildings and spread across approximately 590,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres) before it was declared to be under control in July 2016.
While no official cause has been determined, investigators with the province’s RCMP believe it was most likely the result of human activity. Wildfires caused by human activity typically start from campfires left unattended, burning debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, fireworks, and in some cases acts of arson. A relatively smaller portion of wildfires are started by mother nature, via lightning strikes. These fires are often fueled by dry weather, a buildup of underbrush and high winds.
Alberta’s wildfire season runs from March 1st to October 31st each year, with May typically keeping Alberta wildland firefighters the busiest. The province’s five-year average indicates that 60% of wildfires are caused by humans -- but in 2020 that number jumped to approximately 80%. This increase is particularly concerning, as in the early spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was reaching Canada, most people were isolating at home rather than camping or partaking in other outdoor recreational activities. Along with many people choosing to stay home, a fire ban had also been instated for the province in April of 2020.
Now that spring of 2021 is finally here, Albertans are gearing up to get outside, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and outdoor activities remain some of the safest - we’ve already seen this reflected in Provincial campsite bookings in March, increasing 100% over the same time last year! But this also means there is the potential for more human-caused fires than last year.
While we all head outside, lets collectively do our part to contribute toward wildfire safety with these tips:
- Make sure you follow local regulations and laws (i.e.: campsite specific rules, fire restrictions/bans, etc.) regarding burning fires. Municipally, Edmonton has had a fire restriction in place since April 16, 2021, prohibiting the use of fireworks or conducting open burning. Many areas in the province are under Fire Advisory, Restrictions or Bans.
- Check the weather forecast, and avoid having a fire on days with high winds.
- Certain areas are more prone to wildfires than others so make sure that you check with the area to see if they are more at risk than other areas.
- Make sure when you are building a fire pit or other fire that you do so in areas where fires cannot spread. Light fires only in areas which can be easily controlled.
- Choose a campfire location that is downwind and away from your tent and belongings. Get rid of any debris like twigs and leaves within a 3-metre area surrounding the campfire.
- Build your fire at least 3-metres away from standing trees, stumps and logs, and at least 15 metres away from forest debris and buildings.
- If you can, build a pit about a foot deep to help keep the campfire contained. Building a circle of rocks around the fire can inhibit the fire from spreading.
- Should your fire spread outside of the contained area, be prepared in advance to put it out quickly.
- If you’re a cigarette smoker, it’s important to smoke only in designated areas, and to put out your cigarette completely before disposing of it safely. Under no circumstances should you throw cigarettes onto the ground.
- Teach your children the rules and safety precautions of camping and being outdoors. Make sure they know to stay away from fires and to always allow an adult to start and put out fires.
Has your business developed a wildfire Emergency Response Plan? If you work in areas at risk of wildfires, it’s important you take time to get ready for one, so everyone understands what to do before, during and after a wildfire. A plan like this can save lives. Safety Ahead can develop a comprehensive Emergency Response Plan for your business, just give us a call!
Wildfire prevention is a responsibility we all share. By being prepared and following the rules we can save the lives and homes of many people, preserve our communities, forests, and grasslands.
Check out https://www.albertafirebans.ca/ for up-to-date information on bans within the province.