Alberta residents on alert for bizarre winter wildfires

·Contributing Writer

Alberta officials have issued a forest fire alert… for January.

Wacky weather has put the province on guard for wildfire blazes, a scenario that locals are far more accustomed to dealing with in July.

"Normally, we see a lot more snow and a lot less wind," wildfire information officer Geoffrey Driscoll told the Edmonton Journal. "I'm really not used to talking about wildfires in January."

While flammable conditions are not unheard of around Christmas, Driscoll told the paper a large perimeter of dry grass, coupled with high winds, has resulted in a riskier combination than usual.

"If a fire does start, the fire can move very quickly," he said, adding that hearty winter campers needed to be aware, even now, about campfire safety.

That includes building fires away from overhanging branches, logs, and rotten stumps, never leaving your campfire unattended, and making sure the fire has been completely doused with water before leaving the area.

Driscoll pointed out that wildfires are caused by one of two triggers: lightening or humans. As there is typically no lightening in the winter that makes people the sole risk factor.

"Albertans have to be just as careful now as they would be in the middle of the summer," he said.

While the province's fire season doesn't officially kick off for another three months, Driscoll noted that winter fires are different from their warmer weather incarnations.

Winter fires typically burn hard and fast, but unlike summer fires they don't go into the ground, he said.

Last week, a blaze tore through southern Alberta when two grass fires, fanned by high winds, grew to cover 3000 hectares.

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