Due to dry conditions, the County of Vermilion River (CVR) issued a partial fire ban last Friday.
Under the current ban, only recreational and incinerator fires are permitted. Upon completion, these recreational and incinerator fires must be contained, supervised and fully extinguished.
“Since April 1, the CVR has had eight fires in 12 days. Firefighters have been busy – between structure fires and wildfires, calls are up from this time last year. Currently, we are at approximately 80 calls for service, not including mutual aid assignments,” said Director of Protective Services, Kirk Hughes.
On average, he said CVR firefighters respond to approximately 100 calls per year involving some element of wildfire. Wildfires include grass fires, or others that have extended beyond their primary source of ignition. A house that has caught fire and then spread to a wooded lot, for example.
“With the increase in wildfires in our region, and certainly with the potential for urban interface fires, property owners can take an active role to reduce and mitigate the effects of fire on their property,” said Hughes.
“First thing we’d recommend is for residents to cut grass and clear up debris in and around their houses, outbuildings and storage sites. This helps to create space around vulnerable structures and act as a fireguard. Farmers and ranchers are asked to manage the vegetation along fence lines and ditches, and homeowners can help by removing flammable materials away from their homes including wood piles and any dead or dying trees, brushes and plants,” he said.
Hughes said they’d like to thank residents for their caution and extra attention to the current conditions. The current fire situation is not good overall. He said deciding on the bans is actually a very complicated process. When determining whether or not to implement a restrictive or full fire ban, a number of factors play a role including technology.
Generally, if there are more than three wildfires in a 7-10 day period, it is a good indicator of higher risk. Hughes said frequency is the first thing he considers when determining a fire ban. The second factor is severity – whether those fires were large or small, whether they spread quickly, and what the causes were.
“In April, CVR experienced at least four large fires that damaged buildings, vehicles and caused significant damage,” said Hughes.
The beginning of March marks the start of Alberta Wildfire Season, and Hughes said the third factor is time. Having a ban all year would be wasteful, but having one during the provincial monitoring time-span makes sense.
The fourth factor is research.
“Gone are the days of standing outside and kicking the dirt. We rely on scientific data gleamed from many sources, from Alberta Fire Bans to NASA,” said Hughes.
“Alberta Fire Bans tells us who has implemented a ‘ban’ or ‘restriction’ and what that entails. I then take this information and look at our precipitation levels, [currently] at 19% which is extremely low, ground moisture content, expected weather, expected winds, current water levels in our river basins and the drought map. If all these numbers support each other – then a ban is seriously contemplated. Also, NASA has a real-time fire mapping which provides a whole host of data we can use to calculate fire behaviour.” [Fire Map – NASA | LANCE | FIRMS]
“Lastly, it boils down to weather. I consult the long term forecast and check temperature, storm frontage and cloud cover. Humidity is considered. Fire load is considered, [meaning] the previous year’s growth and deadfall as well as the moisture content and dew point. So, it’s the weather but more specifically the temperature, humidity and wind that affect the decision. That is how we determine fire bans,” said Hughes.
For the duration of the fire ban, all other fires are banned, and all previously issued permits are cancelled.
Conditions of fire permits and fire bans must be followed. Failure to do so will result in a minimum $500 penalty.
The county is asking residents to ensure all previously or currently permitted fires are completely extinguished. They also ask that all smoking material is put out or disposed of in a burn proof container rather than being tossed onto the ground or out vehicle windows.
To find ongoing fire ban updates throughout the summer, you can visit www.vermilion-river.com. To report a wildfire you can call 9-1-1.