As firefighters work around the clock on three forest fires burning out of control in northern Alberta, officials issued a fire ban on Monday for most forested areas in the province.
"The wildfire situation in most of Alberta is serious," said Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen in a news release.
"Unfortunately, most of the wildfires we are fighting right now appear to be human-caused and therefore were 100 per cent preventable. It is very important that everyone take precautions to avoid starting fires — it is so dry and windy in many places that fires can start and spread very quickly."
Firefighters are trying to contain:
- A 1,000-hectare blaze near the hamlet of Grassland in northeast Alberta.
- A 650-hectare fire near Bonnyville in the eastern part of the province.
- A fire half the size of the Bonnyville blaze, near Lodgepole, southwest of Edmonton.
The wind, along with warm, dry conditions, continue to pose the biggest challenge for firefighters, said Geoff Driscoll, a wildfire information officer.
"Certainly the one in Grassland grew the biggest yesterday, but the one near Bonnyville came out a little later in the evening and grew pretty big pretty fast," said Driscoll.
All the fires are burning near communities and roads, which means they were likely caused by people, said Driscoll.
Lightning strikes haven't been a factor, he said.
Province-wide fire ban in place
The province issued the fire ban early Monday evening. It covers forested lands from Waterton Lakes National Park in the south, to north of Manning and east to north of Fort McMurray. The ban does not apply to cities, towns or villages or federal lands, although many areas already have their own bans in place.
Outdoor fires, fireworks and the use of portable campfires are now prohibited.
The ban does not affect fires contained within a cooking or heating appliance fuelled by fluids or compressed gas, an "engineered fire receptable" in designated camping and recreation areas, walled tents with air-tight stoves with proper screening as approved by a forest officer, or industrial sites or facilities also approved by a forest officer.
At least one Athabasca County resident called earlier for a total fire ban.
"No fires of any kind," said Terry Damsgaard. "As well, ban the use of quads and dirt bikes until we get some much-needed moisture."
Firefighters worked overnight to build a fire guard on the south side of the Bonnyville fire, helping slow its spread.
Over 80 firefighters were expected to arrive Monday with helicopters and heavy equipment to help contain the Grassland fire.
By the end of the day about 300 firefighters will be working all three fires.
About 15 rural homes near Grassland have been put on evacuation alert, after one home and two machine shops were destroyed Sunday.
The smoke from the forest fire shut down part of Highway 63 Sunday between Highway 55 and Wandering River.
The area is now open for travel, although RCMP warn should the flames or smoke increase, the highway will close immediately.
There are 54 forest fires burning in the province, but only three are listed as out of control.