A relatively mild winter and a warm march coupled with a windy start to the season has developed perfect conditions for grass and brush fires to take off this spring.
Deputy Chief Trevor Palmer of the Millet Fire Department says that these conditions increase the risk of rekindling controlled burns of brush piles that took place over the winter and the fire spreading across the dry grass.
Palmer says that of the six grass fires that the MFD have already attended this spring, at least one was caused from a winter burn rekindling. Palmer says that the fires the MFD have fought this year are an early start to the grassfire season.
“We expect to have a busy grassfire season each year, but most years we don’t see the first fire until late April or early May.”
Four of the six fires MFD have responded to this year have also taken a considerable amount of time to put out. A fire on April 6, 2021, took the MFD almost seven hours to fight with 21 firefighters on scene.
“As it stands now without considerable moisture in coming weeks we expect to have a very busy fire season,” says Palmer.
Chief Jamie Wilkinson of the Wetaskiwin Fire Department says that they have already responded to about a dozen grass fires this year.
Palmer urges people to be aware of their burning habits. The Fire Department is still seeing people throw cigarettes out their car windows, not using grates or safety screens on their burn barrels, fireworks being blasted over dry grass, people not checking their winter burns to make sure they are not still smouldering, and people who light fires without knowing the requirements for fire permits.
“We’re imploring people to check any controlled burns that they had at any time over the winter to make sure they’re out. Burn pits need to be “soaked, stirred, soaked” and then “soaked, stirred, soaked” again – with the amount of peat in soils in our area, fires can move down into the ground and pop up somewhere else if they’re never completely extinguished,” says Palmer.
As of March 1, fire permits are required for all County residents who wish to burn off dead or cured fuels, brush piles and general yard cleanup, says Wilkinson. The City of Wetaskiwin also requires residents to have a permit for backyard fire pits, in which only dry seasoned wood is allowed to be burned.
Grass, leaves, tree branches and other yard materials are to be disposed of at the waste and recycling or the City landfill.
Wilkinson says a good fire prevention tip is to, “keep a means of extinguishment near by, whether it’s a garden hose or extinguisher for the back yard to machinery with discs or water carts, to provide a fire break.”
As Millet is its own municipality, residents of the Town of Millet are bound by the Town of Millet’s bylaws and are subject to the Town’s requirements for permits and not the County. However, if you are in the Town of Millet your backyard fire pit must be approved under the terms of the Open Air Bylaw, which you will need to apply to the Town for a permit.
Palmer advises going to www.albertafirebans.ca if you are unsure if your jurisdiction has a fire ban or not as it is the most up to date and accurate information for the province.