More than 500 firefighters will be ready to fight Alberta wildfires by mid-May: province

The province provided its first weekly update on the wildfire situation in Alberta. As Laura Krause reports, its done in an effort to keep Albertans informed as the season develops.

Ahead of what’s likely to be a ferocious wildfire season, Albertans received the first weekly update from Alberta Wildfire Thursday morning.

Drought conditions and above-seasonal temperatures have fire officials on alert, signaling the start of the season 10 days earlier than normal.

Alberta Wildfire public information officer Christie Tucker says it has been a very busy start.

“I recommend that Albertans familiarize themselves with the Alberta Fire Bans website and ensure they don’t become responsible for starting a wildfire,” she said. “We’re starting early and we have a potentially long season ahead of us.”

At this point, there has been 500 hectares burnt this year, which is more than this time last year.

Minister of Forestry and Parks, Todd Loewen, says the province is prepared.

“[There will be] more frequent communication regarding wildfire risks, status, and impacts throughout the province. Alberta’s been experiencing heightened wildfire risk and activity for this time of year and I know Albertans are feeling nervous as we head further into the 2024 wildfire season,” he said. “I want you to know that Alberta’s government understands those concerns and we hear your desire.”

Northwest of Edson, a fireball erupted Tuesday from a ruptured TC Energy pipeline.

Crews quickly brought the 10-hectare wildfire under control.

An investigation is underway, but what exactly caused the rupture won’t be known for months, if not years.

It’s one of 50 fires actively burning across the province.

“We started this year with 64 wildfires still burning from last year,” Tucker said. “While we’ve been working diligently to extinguish them, it does mean that firefighters are entering the spring with a heavier fire load than usual. We’ve already seen more than 500 hectares burned, and that’s about 400 hectares more than we had at this time last year.

Rocky View County announced on Wednesday it was lifting its fire advisory in the east and west, explaining this week’s snow brought much-needed moisture to the area.

Across the province, fire danger is generally in the low risk range, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods.

Loewen says more staff are being brought in earlier than last year, and more than 500 firefighters will be ready to go by mid-May.

“We’ve increased our permanent, full-time staff and we’ll be looking at more of that too. But again, we are staffed up, we are doing the work that the people of Alberta expect,” he said.

Loewen adds currently there are 297 government wildland firefighters, 280 fire attack firefighters, and 172 seasonal support staff.

“We’re bringing on about 30-35 new people a week, heading into the May 15th deadline to have all of our crews hired and ready to go, so we’re in good standing right now, we’re ahead of where we were last year of course both in time and numbers. But we’re increasing that as we go ahead, as the training increases.”

As crews prepare for a very busy year, Albertans are being encouraged to do their part by obeying fire bans that are in place.

-With files from Laura Krause

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