Alberta wildfire officials are getting a jump what could be a long and busy season.
As it has for the last few years, the province is kicking off its forest fire season on March 1, one month earlier than it traditionally has.
Opening the season early was one of the recommendations of the Flat Top Wildfire Complex Review that followed the the 2011 Slave Lake fire, the most costly wildfire disaster in Canadian history.
"By beginning one month early, we can more effectively monitor burning activities and also ensure that our firefighters are well-prepared to respond quickly when wildfires are detected," Oneil Carlier, minister of agriculture and forestry, said Tuesday.
Starting March 1, permits will be mandatory for all fires other than campfires. That's when training for wildfire crews will begin.
Last year, 1,786 wildfires burned almost half a million hectares, the third highest total in Alberta in the last 25 years.
Most of those fires, 70 per cent, were started by people.
University of Alberta wildfire expert Mike Flannigan said Alberta's fire season could really take off this year.
"Our winter has been milder and drier than normal, which is typical for an El Niño, but last fall was dry as well," he said. "There's a potential to get off to a really early fire season this year."
While there has been significantly less snow than normal this winter, Oneil said it's too early to predict what kind of wildfire season the province will face.
The amount of precipitation over the next two months will make that picture clearer, he said.