Wildfire risk elevated with thunderstorms in forecast

·4 min read

Alberta firefighters, aircraft, and equipment are pre-positioned in preparation of a quick response to any new wildfires that may be detected in the coming days.

Thunderstorm warnings in the coming days have now been added to the risky dry conditions and a prolonged, dangerous, and historic heat wave with temperatures peaking in excess of 40 degrees C.

Six wildfires in Edson’s Forest Area were caused by lightning this year and 72 were human-caused, according to Alberta Wildfire.

“There are predicted thunderstorms and precipitation for our area starting Thursday with a high probability of the same weather until about Wednesday next week. With the extreme heat we have been experiencing the moisture will provide welcome relief especially in the forested areas around town. There is a possibility for electrical storms as well, which could be cause for concern until we get an appreciable amount of precipitation,” stated Hinton’s fire chief, Mac de Beaudrap.

The wildfire danger in the Edson Forest Area is extreme, and anticipated extreme fire behaviour means long flame lengths, faster moving fire, long range spotting of embers, and greater potential for the fire to climb from the ground into the forest canopy, which spreads quicker.

“Residents need to have safety and fire prevention at the top of their mind during these extreme weather conditions. Operating recreational vehicles, campfires, or operating equipment such as industry work like welding or farming can easily start a wildfire, and having something on hand to put out a fire such as a fire extinguisher or water can be the difference between an out of control fire or a near miss,” stated Stefan Felsing, Yellowhead County’s communications coordinator.

Alongside all the extreme conditions, the Town of Hinton has identified an extraordinary demand on the water treatment plant and distribution system. As a result, Hinton residents are requested to cut back on their outdoor water use from June 28 until July 3 to preserve potable water.

“Part of the current water restrictions in town is so that we can maintain a minimum level of water in our reservoirs to provide for firefighting if the need arises, which is why it is in all resident’s best interest to conserve water wherever possible. Even a small fire in Town could jeopardise water levels in the reservoirs,” stated de Beaudrap.

Prohibited water usage includes watering of lawns and trees, residential washing of vehicles, driveways, and sidewalks, filling of pools and fountains, water main and hydrant flushing, firefighting training using fire hydrants, sewer flushing and hydrant flushing, and street cleaning.

Water usage that is still allowed is hand watering plants, filling of small play pools for children and pets, washing vehicles at a commercial car wash, and all indoor usage for personal use. Hours at the Rotary Spray Park have been temporarily adjusted to conserve water.

The County monitors water levels and access and will put out notices if the water supply is getting low.

Underground water tanks in several key locations near several subdivisions in Yellowhead County can quickly be accessed for firefighting.

There are also several Yellowhead County Fire Department (YCFD) quick deployment pods that can quickly access more remote areas or hard to reach locations. These pods can get out tools and resources and be left on scene for the firefighters, explained Felsing.

Since March 1, 2021, there have been 78 wildfires in the Edson Forest Area burning a total of 750 hectares. As of June 29, 92 per cent of those wildfires were human-caused and could have been prevented.

During that same timeframe in Alberta’s total Forest Protection Area, there have been 602 wildfires burning a total of 1,602 hectares.

Alberta Wildfire is urging the public to use care while working and recreating in the outdoors. The current fire restriction prohibits the use of wood campfires on public land, but campfires are still permitted inside provincial campgrounds and on private property.

The County urges people to be prepared and have a plan in case of a wildfire.

Having a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit, a list of evacuations items, an evacuation plan, a tank full of gas, and plans for pets and livestock is vital to getting through an emergency.

If you see smoke or flame and suspect it’s a wildfire, call 310-FIRE.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice

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