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Alberta fire crews on high alert for brush fires

May 7, 2013, Edmonton – With record temperatures in the forecast and tinder-dry brush and grass in many areas, Alberta's wildfire crews are on high alert.


May 7, 2013
By Weather Forestry Disaster Politics

Topics

May 7, 2013, Edmonton – With record temperatures in the forecast and
tinder-dry brush and grass in many areas, Alberta's wildfire crews
are on high alert.

Despite a long, cold snowy winter, the fire threat is already
listed as very high to extreme in central and northwestern parts of
the province.

On Monday, a large grass fire briefly shut down a portion of
Highway 63 south of Boyle.

Geoffrey Driscoll, a wildfire information officer, said the fire
was in the county of Thorhild, and a helicopter had been sent out to
assess the situation.

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Driscoll said conditions in some areas are similar to May 2011
before flames roared through the town of Slave Lake, destroying
hundreds of homes and forcing thousands of people to flee to safety.
It caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, including firefighting
and relief costs.

"It is a dangerous time," Driscoll said Monday. "It is the
same time of year just before the wildfires in Slave Lake two years
ago. We are in that same window. We are being really cautious."

One brush fire that broke out Saturday south of Grande Prairie
came within one kilometre of a Weyerhaeuser pulp and saw mill before
it was contained by ground crews and water bombers.

The mill was not evacuated, but Weyerhaeuser staff moved train
cars carrying chemicals out of the path of the fire as a precaution,
said Wayne Roznowsky, a company spokesman.

The mill employs about 600 people.

"We had to take the appropriate precautionary steps," Roznowsky
said. "It is dry and we have no rain in the forecast. It was 28
(degrees) Sunday and it will be 28 today."

The forecast high temperature Monday for the Edmonton and
surrounding area was 30 C.

Driscoll said more than 300 firefighters are on duty in the
province, with another 1,500 that can be called in quickly when
needed.

The problem is much of the snow that fell over the winter has
evaporated instead of melting and soaking the ground.

The grass and brush have not greened up and it is still too early
for the trees to bud, making them more prone to fires.

Warm temperatures combined with dry air and gusty winds create
conditions where fires can spread quickly, making them hard to
contain.

"Anywhere where the snow has retreated it is high to extreme,"
Driscoll said. "It is extremely dry in those areas and will be for
the next little while."

There are two main areas of concern. One runs from west of
Edmonton east to the Saskatchewan boundary just north of the North
Saskatchewan River. The other is northwest Alberta in the region
between Peace River and Grande Prairie.

Driscoll said early season wildfires are almost always caused by
people near communities and can easily be prevented.

The province was discouraging the use of quads and other
off-highway vehicles in some parts of the province. Operators of
such vehicles were being urged to check for hot debris from the
machines that could start wildfires.

Fire permits were suspended in some areas.

Fighting wildfires outside of Alberta's forest zone is primarily
the responsibility of municipalities, but communities often call in
provincial fire crews for out of control fires.

On Monday there were 25 wildfires burning in the provinces. Five
of the fires were being held and none were out of control.


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