2017 Wildfire Season FAQ
Changes from 2016
How will the 2017 wildfire season differ from the 2016 wildfire season?
It is difficult to predict how this upcoming wildfire season will unfold. We do know, however, that there will likely be smoke in the air this season and that the Wildfire Management Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry will respond appropriately to all detections within the Forest Protection Area.
Have there been differences in the weather and the pre-fire season that will impact the 2017 wildfire season?
The fall of 2016 was generally wetter than the fall of 2015, although 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.
Is there still a risk of a wildfire considering the scope of the 2016 Horse River Wildfire?
Yes. While much of the evergreen 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 evergreens, 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.
Are firefighters ready to respond to wildfires detected this season?
Yes. The members of the Regional Emergency Services are prepared for the 2017 wildfire season. The same men and women who defended the region are ready to do so again. The experience they gained last spring brought the membership 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.
Why do I require a fire permit and how do I get one?
Fire permits ensure safe burning practices are being used and that firefighters know where burning is approved so they can focus their efforts accordingly.
Between March 1 and October 31, fire permits are required for all burning (except campfires) outside the Urban Service Area of Fort McMurray, including: Fort Fitzgerald, Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Smith Landing, Anzac, East Draper Road, Gregoire Lake Estates, Saprae Creek and other surrounding First Nations Communities. These permits are free and can be requested in-person through the Government of Alberta’s Fire Permit Office, located on the fifth floor of Fort McMurray Provincial Building at 9915 Franklin Ave. For more information, call 310-0000 (toll-free).
Fire permits are required year-round within the Urban Service Area of Fort McMurray through the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Residents can download a form online. Once complete, submit the form by mail to the Fire Prevention Branch, Fire Hall #5, 200 Saprae Creek Trail, T9H 4P1. Applications can also be faxed to 780-743-3800. For more information, call 780-792-5519.
How do I ensure I’m burning safely when lighting campfires or using my backyard firepit?
There are many ways to ensure safety when lighting fires for camping or in a backyard firepit, which include:
- Supervising fires to ensure they are under control.
- Burning an amount that can be controlled and following the fire permit conditions.
- Watching for sparks and burning material that could cause smaller fires.
- Immediately extinguishing any fires if the wind gusts over 15 km/hour or increases beyond the limit stated on applicable fire permits.
Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs)
I drive an OHV and want to be fire safe. How do I minimize my chances of starting a fire?
The exhaust on an OHV can heat up to 204°C, which is hot enough start a fire. Grass, muskeg, moss or other burnable material can build up on the OHV and be ignited by the heat from the engine. If smoldering debris drops to the ground while driving, it can start a wildfire. To help prevent this, take the following steps:
- Clean the OHV before and during rides.
- After riding through muskeg or tall grass, stop and remove any build-up on the OHV.
- Make sure the muffler and spark arrestor are working property.
- Stop as frequently as possible to knock debris off the OHV and if it is smoldering, soak it, stir it and soak it again.
I saw someone on an OHV start a fire, who should I call?
If you see a wildfire or see an out-of-control fire call 310-FIRE (3473). If someone is found responsible for the start of a wildfire they may be charged under the Forest and Prairie Protection Act and be held responsible for the cost of extinguishing the fire.
How often should I test and replace my smoke alarms?
It’s recommended that residents test smoke alarms once a month, change the batteries at least once a year and replace the smoke alarms every 10 years.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning and how do I protect myself against it?
Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when people and animals breathe in too much carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a gas produced by burning any type of fuel – gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal.
It is often called the “silent killer” because it is odourless, colourless and tasteless. To prevent exposure, residents should install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes. Alarms should then be tested once a month. Batteries should be changed at least once a year. Alarms should be replaced as per manufacturers’ recommendations.
How do I reduce the risk of a fire if there is a smoker in my household?
There are many ways to reduce the risk of a fire if there is a smoker in a residential household, including:
- Ensure cigarettes are fully extinguished in a deep, stable ashtray.
- Soak cigarette ashes and butts in water before throwing away, and dispose of them in an outdoor garbage.
- Do not use potted plants to extinguish cigarettes, as they contain fertilizers and organic substances that are extremely flammable.
- If smoking indoors, install smoke alarms in bedrooms and the living room.
- Do not smoke while feeling drowsy, intoxicated or in bed.
- Keep smoking material, including lighters and matches, out of reach of children.
What should I do if I see an unsupervised or uncontrolled fire taking place?
If you see an unsupervised or uncontrolled fire taking place, call 310-FIRE (3473) to report the fire.
How should I prepare in the event of a wildfire?
Residents should prepare for wildfires using the following steps:
- Prepare an emergency kit.
- Check for and remove fire hazards in and around your home, including dried out branches, leaves and debris.
- Have fire drills with your family, including practicing an escape plan so that everyone knows how to exit the home quickly and safely.
- Have a plan so that family members can contact each other in case of separation during an evacuation.
- Practice the STOP-DROP-ROLL technique for extinguishing clothes on fire.
- Make sure every floor and sleeping area has a smoke detector.
- Keep first-aid supplies on hand to treat injuries until help arrives.
How do I stay up to date on emergency situations developing in the community?
Use the resources available to you to stay informed of an emergency situation developing in the community, including:
- Visit RMWB.ca
- Follow @RMWoodBuffalo on Twitter and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo on Facebook
- Call the Emergency Management Hotline (recorded message with updates) at 780-799-8000
- Download and use the Alberta Emergency Alert app
Where do I go if I, or a loved one, need support for addictions or mental health?
The wildfire’s effect on the community may cause individuals to experience addiction or mental health issues. Resources are available to help. View a list of available resources at rmwb.ca/support.
For additional questions, visit rmwb.ca/rebuild or call the PULSE Line at 780-743-7000.