Unusually dry conditions spark burn bans across southern Manitoba
St. Clements firefighters battle several grass fires as normally boggy areas dry out
Dry conditions in southeastern Manitoba have sparked more than fires — several rural municipalities have implemented burn bans only a few weeks after the arrival of spring temperatures. And an Environment Canada metrologist says this is not normal.
There were fires in two marshland areas in the rural municipality of St. Clements, "where normally there would be three to four inches of water," said Ken Sim, the RM's director of protective services.
"Firefighters are reporting back they're not even getting the wheels wet on their offroad vehicles [when fighting fires].… It's early, it's unusual, so we're taking the necessary precautions."
The rural municipality, which runs along the east side of the Red River about eight kilometres north of Winnipeg to Lake Winnipeg, has seen about 10 grass fires this season already, said Sim, with two bigger fires over the weekend.
"We've had rather large fires as well as the usual ones where people are burning their grass on their properties and lose control of the fire," said Sim.
A fire on Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, which is in the RM, threatened two homes on the weekend, leaving residents worried they'd have to evacuate their homes, but firefighters brought it under control.
Sim blames the lack of snow cover over the winter for the dry conditions.
"We had very little in the way of drifts and even the treelines [had] very small amounts of snow," said Sim, adding the creeks in the area aren't going through their usual spring flooding.
"It was an exceptionally dry winter for us."
The RM of St. Clements joins the rural municipalities of Springfield, Brokenhead, Tache, Hanover, Ste. Anne, Ritchot, Alexander, Gimli, Reynolds, De Salaberry and Emerson-Franklin, as well as the town of Morris, all of which have implemented burn bans within the last week or two.
Natalie Hasell, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said southern Manitoba received half or less than half the normal amounts of precipitation over the winter.
"Between September and March, there's been practically no precipitation," she said. "The amount of precipitation we got in September and … in March didn't make a huge difference."
Most of the rest of the province is at or near normal levels of precipitation, she added, leaving southern Manitoba a bit of a dry doughnut compared to the rest of the province and our neighbours.
High-pressure systems that parked themselves over the southern portion of the province squelched any cloud formation, and a cold spell kept rain and snow amounts low this spring, said Hasell.
Hard on homes, golf courses
The dry weather is keeping foundation repair companies busy in Winnipeg.
Gerry Bonham with Abalon Foundation Repairs says his company has been responding to calls from customers who are seeing the effects of the dry weather — cracks in walls and foundations, shifting and doors that won't close properly.
He says the dry soil conditions around homes lead to the shifting and moving that cause the problems — but there's a simple solution that can stop the trouble before they require pricey house levelling and foundation repairs.
Bonham says homeowners who notice dry soil separating from around the outside of their home should squeeze rolled-up newspaper into the crevice before spraying water away from the home to add much needed moisture to the area.
"It's just lack of moisture, that's why [the soil] has moved away from the house," he said. "We know it's dry. Simple solution — add water."
The dry start to spring has Guido Cerasani hoping to see some rain clouds over the city sooner than later.
While the owner of Shooters Family Golf Centre says the dry conditions won't impact his course over the short term, the longer it lasts, the worse things will get for golfers.
"Last Monday we were moving snow three feet deep. That's all gone and there hasn't been a stitch of moisture since, so it's definitely dry," he said.
"We haven't got our irrigation going yet, but once the irrigation starts up it's still not the same as Mother Nature giving us the start."
He says ideal conditions would see a couple of centimetres of rain at night followed by sunny days.
"A good half-hour downpour to wash things up and get things started would be great."
Sim said he's also hoping for a few days of rain.
"Not torrents, but just a nice steady rain and everything would lush up green fairly quickly and, of course, that would certainly help out those lowland areas we have our concerns with."
However, that may be days or weeks away, said Hasell, adding April's totals include only four centimetres of snow and no rain, compared to the normal 10 centimetres of snow and 19.2 millimetres of rain.
"This week there's a small chance of showers actually this evening … [then] staring on Monday night, we have a 40 per cent chance of showers, Tuesday a 40 per cent chance of showers.
"Of course, that's really far in the forecast."
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson