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2017 Wildfire Season

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Learn about fire permits and how you can enjoy your backyard firepit safely this summer.

Jody Butz, Regional Fire Chief for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, speaking on the upcoming 2017 wildfire season.

While it is difficult to predict how the upcoming wildfire season will unfold, we know that the Wildfire Management Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry are prepared to respond appropriately to all detections within the Forest Protection Area with the support of Regional Emergency Services as required.

The same men and women who defended the region 10 months ago are ready to do so again. The experience the Regional Emergency Services membership gained last spring brought the team closer together and improved their skills in fighting fires in the wildland urban interface (the area where structures and forested areas meet). The membership has received mental health supports to help them cope with the challenges they have faced in the aftermath of the 2016 Horse River Wildfire and they are stronger for having overcome those challenges.

There will likely be smoke in the air this season which may trigger feelings of anxiety and nervousness, particularly as our community approaches the one year anniversary of the 2016 Horse River Wildfire and the evacuation of the region on May 3, 2016. It’s important to know these are normal reactions and there are resources available to help you cope with this stress.

Changes from 2016

The weather in the fall and winter leading up to the 2017 wildfire season has presented changes from the same period leading up to the 2016 wildfire season.

While the fall of 2016 was generally wetter than the fall of 2015, this winter was colder than last year and precipitation was only 53 per cent of the average. The nature of the snow melt and upcoming spring rains will determine the character of spring wildfires. For example, a slow melt leads to higher fuel moisture and lower ignition probability. Moisture levels are also low during the ‘Spring Dip’, after the snow melts but before new forest growth appears.

While much of the conifer fuels were removed in many areas of the region, there are still fuels within this part of the fire environment that will support a wildfire. These include grasses, remaining conifers, burnt fuels, and remaining areas that were not impacted in the 2016 Horse River Wildfire. These include the majority of the Birchwood Trails and the rural communities of Conklin, Janvier, Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan.

FireSmart efforts have been undertaken throughout the community to reduce the threat of wildfire to neighbourhoods and property. These projects include establishing firebreaks in the urban service area, public education and vegetation management, which can include pruning, trimming, removing or planting trees and shrubs.

Training

Some wildland urban interface firefighting training will be taking place this spring to help improve the response to wildfires in the region. This training will involve some supervised burn activity.

Residents are reminded that the work is safe and is done by trained professionals. Residents are asked to avoid the area to let Regional Emergency Services crews do their work safely.

While this work is under way, fire and smoke will be visible. This may cause concern or unexpected emotional triggers. This is a natural reaction and there are resources available to help cope with this stress at rmwb.ca/support.

Fire Prevention

Visit rmwb.ca/fireprevention for more. Each of us has a role to play in preventing fires and wildfires in our community. You can help by ensuring you have the necessary permits for fires outside the urban service area and for backyard fire pits, by practicing safe burning, cleaning off highway vehicles before and during use, and properly extinguishing campfires using the soak it, stir it, and soak it again method, by making sure your smoke detectors are working properly and checking the batteries every month, extinguishing all cigarettes in a deep, stable ash tray, and always reporting wildfires to 911 and 310-FIRE (3473).

You can learn more about the ways you can help prevent fires and wildfires in the community by reading our Frequently Asked Questions.

Emergency Preparedness

Every resident has a responsibility to be prepared for any kind of emergency, including winter storms, flooding and the potential threat of a wildfire in our community.

You can make sure you and your family are prepared by ensuring everyone in your household knows the 3 Steps to Emergency Preparedness:

  • Know the Risks
  • Make a Plan
  • Get a Kit

If you are aware of the risks, you can better prepare for them. In the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the most significant risks are that of winter storms, flooding, and wildland urban interface fires. You and your family should have a plan for each of these potential scenarios. That should include having a plan so that family members can contact each other in case of separation during a storm or an evacuation.

You should also have fire drills with your family, including practicing an escape plan so that everyone knows how to exit the home quickly and safely.

Emergency kits should be catered to the potential scenario and should be packed and ready to go at all times. Vehicle emergency kits should be stored in your vehicle during the winter months.

EMERGENCY KIT FOR HOME

  • Cash and credit cards-include smaller denominations.
  • Ready-to-eat and high-energy food for at least 3 days.
  • Manual can opener.
  • Bottled water or water container with at least 4 litres per person per day for at least 3 days.
  • Water-purifying tablets.
  • Lanterns, flashlights (with extra batteries), glow sticks.
  • Candles with matches.
  • Wind-up/battery-operated radios, extra batteries and alternate heat sources.
  • First aid kit.
  • Whistle (for each member of the family).

TRAVEL KIT FOR VEHICLE

  • Extra clothing including hats, gloves & scarves in cool seasons.
  • Fully-charged cell phone and a car charger for your cell phone.
  • Blanket.
  • Ice scraper and brush in winter.
  • Windshield washer fluid.
  • Booster cables.
  • Basic tools including a shovel.
  • Sand or kitty litter.
  • First aid kit.
  • Reflective triangle.
  • Flashlight, glow sticks.
  • Small candle in a tin can, waterproof matches.
  • Non-perishable high-energy food.
  • Drinking water.

EVACUATION KIT

  • Emergency contact lists with phone numbers (for every member of your family).
  • Photos of each member of your family.
  • Credit cards and cash – include small denominations.
  • Insurance and important documents, and copies of government identification on external drive.
  • Prescription and non-prescription medications.
  • Special needs items for baby, elderly, disabled, and pets.
  • Extra clothes.
  • Additional fuel for your vehicle.
  • Toiletry kit (for every member of your family).
  • Rolls of toilet paper.
  • Whistle (for every member of your family).
  • First aid kit.
  • Lanterns, flashlights (with extra batteries), glow sticks.
  • Candles and waterproof matches.
  • Wind-up/battery-operated radios, extra batteries and alternate heat sources.
  • Bottled water or water container with at least 4 litres per person per day for at least 3 days.
  • Water-purifying tablets.
  • Non-perishable food for at least 3 days.
  • Manual can opener.
  • Sets of utensils (for every member of your family).
  • Hand sanitizer.
  • Garbage & recycle bags.
  • Games/toys to pass the time.

PET KIT FOR EVACUATION

  • Photo(s) of your pet(s).
  • Traveling bag or sturdy carrier and blanket.
  • Extra leash/harness.
  • At least 3 days of food and water.
  • Feeding dishes.
  • Medications.
  • Disposable litter trays (aluminum pans).
  • Litter or paper towels.

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