We can all help reduce wildfires

Wildfire season in Alberta may run from March 1 to October 31, but historically all of our major wildfires have happened in spring.

With the arrival of spring and drier, warmer weather, the risk of wildfires increases, something we’re well aware of in the Slave Lake area. The fire that swept through the town of Slave Lake and burned more than 400 homes and other structures, resulting in damages of $700 million, happened in mid-May 2011.

What’s really unfortunate is that most wildfires that occur throughout the season can be prevented, more than 60 per cent. People cause most of our wildfires, including the 2011 Slave Lake Fire. And in the spring, almost 100 per cent of our wildfires can be prevented — they’re human-caused — since there is less likelihood of lightening storms igniting a forest area.

Already this year, as of April 23, there have been 137 wildfires and of that total, 64 occurred in the past seven days and people caused most, if not all 137 fires.

How can we the reduce the number of wildfires in 2023? The answer comes down to practical, common sense solutions that sound simple, but for whatever reason often are not implemented or not done properly.

Recreational activities account for a large number of human-caused fires. Here are some steps from the Alberta Government website we can all do when enjoying the outdoors:

  • Check Alberta Fire Bans to ensure that campfires are permitted in your area.
  • If you are at a campground, use the designated stoves, rings and fire pits. They are designed to keep fires from spreading and are the best choice for a safe campfire.
  • Avoid using sites that are near dry grass, heavy bushes, leaves, logs, peat areas or overhanging branches. Ensure your campfire is on level ground and sheltered from the wind. A breeze can carry sparks from your fire to flammable material nearby.

● Prepare a site outside a designated campground. Safe wood campfires should be within a metal, brick, or rock fire ring. They are required to:
○ be on rock, gravel, sand, or another non-combustible surface that extends at least 1m around the fire
○ have a responsible person in attendance to keep fire under control at all times and extinguish before leaving
○ have enough water on site to extinguish the fire

● Extinguish your campfire:
○ When you are finished with the campfire, make sure you properly extinguish it.
○ First, let the fire burn down well before you plan to put it out.
○ Next, spread the embers inside the fire pit. Be careful to keep the embers within the fire pit. Add water or loose dirt to the fire pit and stir it around.
○ Dig around the fire pit and expose any material that is still burning before adding more water or loose dirt. Continue until you no longer see smoke or steam rising from the pit.
○ Do not just bury your fire and leave it – embers will continue to smoulder underground and can re-emerge as a wildfire.
○ Your campfire is fully extinguished when its ashes are cool to the touch.
○ “Soak it, stir it, soak it again.

Preventing wildfires is a team effort that everyone in the community needs to get behind, industry included.

At Vanderwell, we do a lot to prevent wildfires and avoid the potential of fire affecting our business, the safety of everyone who works for us as well as the surrounding area. We mulch the dry spring grass creating a buffer around the mill-site, make sure fire hydrants are fully charged and ready for action, fill water barrels and portable fire units, regularly refresh our water storage ponds, constantly conduct site clean-up and housekeeping and manage debris piles to reduce the risk of any fires.

Right now 300 firefighters specializing in rural, wildland blazes are finishing their training and moving out to regions across the province ready to respond. When called on, these specially-trained crews will work collaboratively with our own local firefighters to protect property and the surrounding forests and wildlife.

In addition, there are more than several hundred other provincial wildfire staff who work to support the firefighters in the field: airtanker base supervisors and loaders, wildfire and air operators support, communication technicians, crew supervisors, lookout observers and patrol people are just a few of the positions.

Reducing the risk of wildfires really comes down to each of us doing our part.

On behalf of everyone at Vanderwell, we hope you have a safe and healthy spring and find time to get outdoors and enjoy everything the Slave Lake area has to offer.

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