A sharp increase in bear sightings in Fort McMurray has prompted RCMP to urge residents to take extra precautions so they can avoid any dangerous encounters with the animals.

There have been 20 bear sightings in the northern Alberta city since the spring, considerably higher than last year.

"We had massive forest fire north of town. Also, that coupled with people not storing their garbage covered up and secured in containers," said Const. Dustin Greig with Wood Buffalo RCMP.  "Bears will obviously go to the easiest source of food."

RCMP say people should not wear headphones while walking and running.

Residents are urged to keep their garbage covered and secured in a container.

If people encounter a bear, they should not run away if the animal has seen them, RCMP said. Instead, they should face the bear and back away slowly with their arms held over their head.

If the bear charges, people still should not run away. They should yell, scream and make as much noise as possible, RCMP said.