Unusually dry weather in the north and west of the North American continent this season lead to a dauntingly early fire season. Jurisdictions and municipalities in British Columbia, Alberta, and the entire western United States have already issued fire warnings and restrictions this week.
In addition, some amount of wildfires continue to burn in several locations.
Four smaller human-caused fires erupted Monday in four distinct areas of the Kootenays in British Columbia.
Jordan Turner, BC Provincial Fire Information Officer, said in a release that two of the fires were results of “poorly planned open burning” but that as all of the fires were human-caused they were all preventable. Near Rapid City, SD, a wildfire that started March 5 west of Custer, SD, had grown to nearly 60 acres, Black Hills Fox news reported Thursday. The North Pole Fire is located in the area of Highway 16 and Renegade Road. No containment is listed on the fire as of Wednesday morning.
Fire officials report there are 60 personnel currently working the fire, including state, federal and local crews. Fire crews say the lines held well overnight and say the fire is producing a lot of smoke.
Back in BC, Fire information officer Kelsey Winter said March 6 a wide swath of BC is already tinder dry, according to CKNW AM.
“The Wildfire Management Branch is really urging the public to be cautious with any open burning due to that wildfire risk.”
Winter says brush and grass are already super dry and could ignite into a wildfire if people aren’t cautious with any open flame.
“It is really early,” said Winter. “The Kamloops Fire Centre is already experiencing fire behaviour and conditions that we don’t normally see until late April and we are already seeing them now in the beginning of March. Those are flame heights that are much higher than we normally see and it is quite dry out there. So that is definitely increasing the fire risk.”
Winter says there could be an ugly wildfire season ahead of us.
The Southeast BC Fire Centre has released a cautionary warning on outdoor fires and a wildfire risk has been placed on the region.
Precautions such as avoiding lighting fires in windy conditions, never leaving fires unattended, ensuring complete extinguishing of fires before leaving the area and creating a one meter fireguard by clearing away twigs, grass and leaves have been recommended.
Further north, Alaska wildfire managers are preparing for a fire season that may begin earlier than usual after a winter marked by warmer temperatures and less snow than usual.
The Peninsula Clarion newspaper in Kenai, AK, reported Thursday the unusual winter is unlikely to affect the level of fire danger in the summer, but it is cause for early preparation. Federal fire weather forecaster Sharon Alden says there’s no correlation between a warm and low-snow winter and a busy fire season.
Alden says there is, however, a correlation between snowpack and the early fire season in regards to how fast snow melts and how soon the season begins. She said to the Peninsula Clarion that forest fuels are drier in early spring before green-up and that after sprouting begins, vegetation becomes less receptive to fire.
Moving east, Alberta wildfire season officially began March 1st. Preparations include getting crews, aircraft and equipment in place and deploying them to Alberta’s Forest Protection Area as required. The province has been getting ready early for wildfires since the May 2011 blaze that destroyed about a one-third of the town of Slave Lake.
Training is also underway for new firefighting personnel and Alberta’s lookout towers are being staffed.
“For the first couple of weeks, with lookout observers and firefighters, we’ll have about 150 people,” said Geoffrey Driscoll, wildfire information officer with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Between March 1 and October 31, anyone in the Forest Protection Area who plans to do any type of burning, with the exception of lighting campfires, must obtain a permit. They are free and can be requested at any Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development office.
Currently the region north of Slave Lake, AB, has received about half of its normal winter snowfall, while the area around Grande Prairie, AB, has received much more snow than normal.
During the 2014 wildfire season, the province responded to more than 1,400 wildfires in the Forest Protection Area, of which more than 60 per cent were caused by human activity. Driscoll said 23,117 hectares were burned — roughly one-third the size of the city of Edmonton.
The year before, the province responded to 1,215 fires, which burned 19,574 hectares.
The five-year average is about 1,493 wildfires per year, with 270,000 hectares burned in the last five years.
Further south, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Thursday was preparing itself for the possibility of springtime wildfires in the Twin Cities metro area.
“We’re expecting that we’ll start having fires in that north metro area probably over the next few days,” said Ron Stoffel, a wildfire suppression supervisor to Minnesota Public Radio News. “We’ve had a few in the last few days; nothing real substantial.”
The DNR expects the wildfire threat — they’ve already seen a few small wildfires in the north metro area this season — to move northward across the state over the next few weeks.
Very dry soil conditions and little snowfall in much of the state have officials anticipating a busier and perhaps longer-than-normal spring fire season.
The DNR restricts burning shortly after snow melt when exposed dead grass and brush can ignite easily and burn quickly. The restrictions normally last from four to six weeks until sufficient green vegetative growth occurs.