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Dry conditions prompt fire advisories for much of southern Alberta

A large swath of southern Alberta is currently under a fire advisory as communities outside of Calgary battle grass fires sparked by dry, windy conditions a little earlier than usual this year.

Some areas outside Calgary are already seeing grass fires

A grass fire spreads across the Blood Reserve west of Lethbridge in this file photo. Crews in Rocky View County responded to half a dozen grass fires on Thursday afternoon.

Rocky View County's fire chief says grass fire season started a few weeks early this year because of bare ground and dry grass that is vulnerable to careless activity.

"What we are finding is that people have had either a small fire, or they've had a larger fire and it's been extinguished and then they leave it," said Randy Smith.  

"And the sun comes out, the wind comes up, and an ember flashes up, and again with this dry, dry grass it's just like gasoline and away it goes."

Crews responded to half a dozen grass fires on Thursday afternoon alone. Smith says his isn't the only department battling fires — Cochrane, Redwood Meadows and Chestermere have all been busy too.

Several fire advisories are in effect around Calgary

"Until it greens up, it's very dangerous right now," said Smith. He said he expects conditions to improve some time in April or May. 

The mayor and fire chief for the MD of Foothills are considering a fire ban in order to prevent grass fires like the ones they battled last year. (Colleen Underwoood/CBC)

But Jim Smith, the fire chief with the Municipal District of Foothills, isn't as optimistic.

"We're looking at June when the rains come, hopefully, we'll get some moisture," he said.

The M.D. of Foothills is also under a fire advisory, but is considering a fire ban this weekend.

"Our concern of course is, as it warms up, the temperature goes up, the humidity goes down, and that's when we have to be ready to make our play," said Foothills Mayor Larry Spilak.

The M.D.'s fire crews check the humidity on the ground three or four times a day this time of year, he said.

Smith says this year appears to be as dry or drier than last year, which saw a spate of massive grass fires, including one near Blackie that prompted a state of emergency. It was started by a lawnmower.

"The resident was taking care of their land and just cutting the lawn and the lawnmower hit a rock and ignited a fire," said Smith.

Most grass fires are caused by people, and the vast majority of those are from lit cigarettes, he says.

"They roll in the ditch. And on a windy day like this it keeps the embers on the cigarette going and ignites that fire very quickly. So that's a huge opposition that we have to get up against."

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