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Wildfires in northern Alberta a visible sign of annual 'spring dip'

As the landscape changes slowly from the dead of winter to the green of spring, swaths of Alberta are vulnerable to the risk of wildfire.

'Fire can certainly giddy-up-and-go at this time of year'

This aerial shot of the smaller of the two fires burning near the town of Manning was taken during the morning of May 13, 2019. (Alberta Wildfire)

As the landscape changes slowly from winter deadfall to the green of spring, swaths of Alberta are vulnerable to the risk of wildfire.

"It's dry out there for sure. It's what they call the 'spring dip in fire management,'" Daniel Kempling, director of emergency management for the County of Northern Lights, told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Tuesday.

Kempling is keeping tabs on one of the province's first major forest fires north of Manning, Alta.

"Spring dip" refers to the phenomenon where deciduous trees and grasses have extremely low moisture content, a situation that Mother Nature effectively solves with new growth.

In Alberta, green-up can happen any time between the beginning of April and the end of May.

"Fire can certainly giddy-up-and-go at this time of year," Kempling said.

Alberta's largest fire is 10 kilometres northwest of the town of Manning, which is 100 kilometres north of Peace River.

At 2,460 hectares, it is still listed as out-of-control although changing weather conditions have helped firefighters, Kempling said.

"The weather gods have been kind," he said. "The wind has died down, the relative temperature has gone down, the relative humidity has gone up. I wouldn't call it under control but it's contained and not an immediate threat to any structure in our area."

A second, smaller fire, also listed as out of control, is further north and covers about 80 hectares.

The Alberta Wildfire website cites lightning as the cause of the smaller fire. Kempling said the cause of the larger one is still under investigation.

Most of the province is subject to fire advisories, restrictions or, in a few cases, full fire bans.

Exceptions include the far northeast and a stretch south from Edmonton through Calgary and the mountain parks.

It's important to be fire smart, Kempling said. "Control the fuels around your property, around your house. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

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