Alberta is bracing for what could be a dry and demanding wildfire season.
The province officially started its wildfire season on Tuesday, a full month earlier than it had in years past.
"It gives our crews the chance for recruitment, and to get men and women and equipment on the ground, " said Oneil Carlier, Alberta minister of agriculture and forestry.
The early start date was adopted after a devastating wildfire ripped through the town of Slave Lake in May 2011, forcing more than 5,000 people from their homes and causing a record $1 billion in damages.
"It gives the opportunity for the crews to get the training that they need, and get up and running in anticipation of what could be another dry season."
Last year, wildfires consumed nearly 492,000 hectares of forest, an area more than seven times greater than Edmonton, and provincial officials suggest this season could be equally taxing for provincial fire crews.
"We are doing the preparation earlier, in anticipation of another busy wildfire season," Carlier said.
About 70 per cent of last year's fires were ignited by human activity, and with the new season officially underway, the province is asking Albertans to do their part in easing the wildfire risk.
"It is unacceptable that over the past five years, more than two-thirds of all the wildfires in Alberta were caused by people. We have to be more vigilant."
The anticipated cost of operations for the entire season has been pegged at $474 million, and it will be money well spent, said Carlier.
"It's important to protect the forest resources, the oil and gas resources, Albertans and their communities."
The province issued a few tips to help prevent fires:
- When putting out fires, especially burn piles and campfires, soak the fire with water, stir the ashes and soak again. The ashes should not be hot to the touch.
- When using an off-road vehicle, stop occasionally to check for any debris that may be caught, superheated, drop to the ground and start a wildfire.
- Check any fall and winter burns to make sure they are completely extinguished.
With the start of wildfire season, fire permits are required for all burning in the Forest Protection Area, excluding campfires.
For information about fire bans and forest closures, visit albertafirebans.ca.