March 1 marked the start of fire season in Alberta. As of March 24, there have been no wildfires in the Slave Lake Forest Protection Area. The fire danger remains low, but in the next few weeks as the snow melts this could change.
“Every season is so different,” says Leah Lovequist, Wildfire Information Officer. It is difficult to predict what the 2020 wildfire season will be like, but the forest service will daily monitor the weather and other factors.
Wildfire fighting in Alberta is collaborative. Alberta Wildfire fights the forest fires and regional fire departments protects the buildings.
Slave Lake and the M.D. of Lesser Slave Lake have a joint fire service the Slave Lake Regional Fire Service.
The wildfire season equipment is prepped and ready to go, says SLRFS chief Alex Pavcek.
Like the rest of Alberta, both fire services are preparing for the potential impacts of COVID-19.
“It’s all new learning as we go,” says Pavcek. The biggest concern for SLRFS is to maintain healthy firefighters to be able to respond to normal emergencies and wildfires.
To accomplish this, the Slave Lake hall is now manned 24-7. Slave Lake hall is the main hall and deals with most of the calls.
The crews are in isolation for their six day shifts. The firefighters also have extra personal protection equipment for every call. The situation is fluid and the fire department is evaluating the new system as things change.
Below is Alberta Wildfire’s official statement as of March 25.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, and every day, the health and safety of firefighters, support staff and the people of Alberta is our first priority. While aggressive public health measures continue to help limit the spread, Alberta Wildfire is taking necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of our staff. An Incident Management Team (IMT) is developing a response plan that will ensure we can effectively manage wildfires during the 2020 wildfire season. Various scenarios are being explored with the focus on staff safety related to firefighting operations. Also the training needs of Alberta Wildfire staff are being taken into account by the Incident Management Team as they develop their response plan.”
As of March 24 at 10 a.m., there had only been five forest fires in the province of Alberta. All are under control or extinguished. These fires were very small. None were in the Lesser Slave Lake Forest Protection Area.
This is much less than the five-year average for March 1 to 24, which is 30 fires.
The fire danger in the spring is the ‘freeze’ dried grass. Last summer with all of the rain, the grass grew tall and thick. It is visible in open areas, but there is also lots of grass under the trees.
The forest service urges people to be extremely careful once the snow melts, as this grass will light and spread quickly with very little wind. Quadders and other people travelling in the woods need to be very cautious.
Anyone who burnt brush in the winter need to report it and to double check it.
Any new burns outside of town, need a permit from Alberta Wildfire. People near Slave Lake, Red Earth Creek, and Peerless and Trout Lake call 780-849-7377. For those burning near Wabasca call 780-891-3860.
Last year, Slave Lake Forest Protection Area had the largest wildfire in its history. The McMillan fire, as it is called, is under control, but still being monitored. Once the snow is off the ground and other conditions are met, it will be scanned for fires burning under the ground.
Once these are identified, firefighters will be sent in to extinguish them.
Fires can burn in the muskeg for weeks or months, says Lovequist. It depends on the depth and moisture content of the muskeg.
As of early February, all Alberta and Slave Lake wild firefighters are back from helping out in Australia. Fire season in Alberta started on March 1. March and April tend to be slow months, but fire permits are still required for burning brush piles, setting off fire works, etc.