Wildfire season already in full swing in Alberta

It’s only May but the risk of wildfire in Alberta is already climbing.

There were a couple of grass fires started by sparks shooting from trains on CN tracks in southeast Calgary along Hubalta Road near Elliston Park overnight Monday, and then again outside the city early Tuesday morning.

No structures were damaged, though the rail line was closed as crews knocked down the fires.

Rocky View County and Chestermere are both under fire advisories, but that doesn’t include cities and towns such as Calgary, Airdrie or Cochrane.

There is a partial ban in place further north in Mountain View County, with full bans in Kneehill County and Red Deer County.

It’s a better situation to the south and west into the mountains, but large areas of the province are seeing advisories or bans.

University of Alberta Professor and Director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science Mike Flannigan told CityNews part of the problem is that it’s generally warmer than it used to be earlier.

“You get more vegetation growth, you get more grasses, sage, shrubs and then summer drought comes and they die and that means there’s more fuel for the fire so if a fire does happens, it’s higher intensity and harder to put out,” he explained.

“We’re seeing twice as much fire and we’re expecting more fire in the future because it depends on this extreme weather and with our jet stream changing and with climate change, we expect more extremes, more drought, more fires,” said Flannigan.

He added Canada as a whole has done almost nothing to address the growing problem, arguing Ottawa needs to be more proactive.

“Many other countries, when they had catastrophic fires, they have specific programs dedicated to fire to address the problems and try and find solutions,” explained Flannigan. “Canada does nothing, almost.”

“We had those B.C. fires and of course those devastating California fires, people are now saying that could be almost a permanent ridge that just parks there and you won’t get any precipitation in those areas,” he said.

During the 2017 fire season the Alberta government responded to 1,231 wildfires that burned more than 49,000 hectares, but there are some things Albertans can do to help lower the risk.

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