Edmonton

Fire bans being ignored in Edmonton, says fire chief

Emergency officials investigating the cause of several afternoon brushfires in the city say some Edmontonians are ignoring a province-wide fire ban.

City crews responded to more than 50 fire-pit complaints on Sunday alone.

A brushfire encroaches on a soccer field near 203 Walker Road Sunday. (Keegan Brooks)

Emergency officials investigating the cause of several afternoon brushfires in the city say some Edmontonians are ignoring a province-wide fire ban.

As firefighters fought to extinguish at least five separate fires within city limits Sunday, the city received more than 50 complaints about people using open-pit fires in residential areas.  

"There has been a very large spike in our fire-pit complaints, with the fire ban," said deputy fire chief of operations Scott MacDonald.

"I think it's an awareness thing. A lot of people don't know about it so we're just trying to get the message out there."

Three houses were badly damaged Sunday when embers from a brush fire believed to have started at a playground in the Wolf Willow neighbourhood landed on their roofs.

One house sustained a burned roof and attic. Flames gutted the top floor of the others.

Two of the homes were three blocks away from where the fire started. Fire officials say those fires were started after large embers were carried by heavy winds.

"There were large embers from that fire. The winds were huge," said MacDonald.

Crews were also called to fires east of 34th Street, just north of Roper Road and at the Edmonton Golf and Country Club. It took crews an hour to bring an earlier fire at Buena Vista Park under control.

MacDonald declined to comment on whether any of the fires were suspicious in nature, but says conditions are dangerously dry, and even the most carefully-monitored fire could put the community at risk. 

"There's not much moisture in the ground, below the surface and that's what's causing a lot of the problems right now," said MacDonald.

"We all have to work together to alleviate this situation right now. It's extreme fire conditions so observe the fire ban."

The Alberta government took the rare step Thursday of issuing a province-wide fire ban.

All open fires, including campfires and charcoal briquettes, are prohibited. However, portable propane fire pits and gas or propane stoves and barbecues designed for cooking or heating are allowed.

The province is also urging citizens to avoid driving off-road vehicles in forested areas.