Edmonton-area counties issue fire bans as region faces 'bone dry' wildfire season

Three counties around Edmonton implemented fire restrictions Thursday as a dry central Alberta faces wildfire season.

Climatologist predicts dryness to be ongoing issue

Fire bans have been issued in three counties around Edmonton this week. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

Three counties around Edmonton implemented fire restrictions Thursday as a dry central Alberta faces wildfire season.

A fire ban went into effect Thursday in Parkland County, prohibiting all outdoor fires including recreation fire pits and charcoal briquette barbeques. All fire permits have been suspended or cancelled with no new permits being issued.

Westlock County north of Edmonton issued a fire control order, restricting permits to essential burning only, such as small debris or crop removal. Backcountry wood fires on public or private lands as well as charcoal briquettes are prohibited.

In Lac Ste. Anne County, northwest of Edmonton, a fire advisory has been issued as the hazard rating for the county is high. Existing burns are allowed, but no new fires will be allowed under current permits, according to a news release on Thursday.

Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips says central Alberta from Red Deer through north of Edmonton is "bone dry."

Snowfall totals throughout the winter were only about two-thirds the normal, Phillips said.

He predicts the dryness will continue.

"This is going to be a continuing issue for forest firefighters, for farmers and ranchers, for communities who depend upon water and water restrictions, even for people who like going camping into parks."

A lot of rain will be needed to restore soil moisture deficits in the region, he said, with Edmonton and parts of central Alberta having seen about 60 per cent of the normal precipitation. 

"The good news is that your wet season usually is from April, May, June and July," he said, with the possibility of almost half of the area's annual precipitation happening in those months.

That moisture will be especially important as the province enters the season of dry lightning. 

"I think we'll hear a lot about forest fires, not just in British Columbia, but in Alberta this year," Phillips said.

Last month, wildfires in southern Alberta forced around 275 residents to leave the village of Carmangay, Alta.