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County regional chief urges fire smarts

Fire season has arrived, and vigilance is key
Grassland FD grass fire
Grassland firefighters were called to a grass fire along Highway 63 last Thursday. The cause is unknown, but regional fire chief Sheldon Schoepp reminds residents to be mindful of how easily fires can start and get out of control with dry conditions, and urges residents to use the FireSmart program for tips on how to prevent fires on their property. 

ATHABASCA – A couple of grass fires on the same day last week were managed handily by the Grassland Fire Department, but serve as a good reminder that fire season is here and it’s likely only going to get drier as temperatures rise. 

Grassland crews were called to a grass fire in a ditch along Highway 63 April 15 and responded quickly. With these kinds of incidents, it’s difficult to determine exactly what the cause may be, said Athabasca County Fire Services regional chief Sheldon Schoepp. 

“I don't know exactly how it started — it could have been a cigarette, could have been a hot piece of steel that fell off a truck. You really don't know,” he said. “It’s very hard to tell how things like that start.” 

A little later in the day, Grassland firefighters were once again summoned into action. This time, north of the hamlet where a resident doing some work outside and caused a small grass fire that was again quickly contained. 

It was small enough that the call came into the department directly, instead of through 911. 

The previous Friday, April 9, fire crews responded to a grass fire on Highway 812, south of Baptiste Lake, after a resident who was working on some machinery caused a spark that ignited dry grass nearby and spread quickly. 

Prevailing winds coming in from across an adjacent field also helped the spread and intensity of the fire. Firefighters were on the scene for about four hours, said Schoepp.  

Athabasca County has been under a fire advisory since April 9. 

“We're still in advisory status, which means the current fire permits are not being cancelled. If new fire permits new are issued, there are inspections being completed first. We just don't issue a permit over the phone, we actually go out and make sure that it is what it is, when they say it is,” said Schoepp. 

The county website elaborates even further: “New fire permits will be issued for essential burning only. The use of burn barrels and cooking and warming fires are still permitted at this time. 

“Residents and visitors to Athabasca County are advised to use extreme caution and to be diligent in safety practices when around fires or burning of any kind. Keep fires small and ensure it is completely extinguished before leaving the area. 

“Anyone who has conducted open burning during the winter is reminded to check their burn sites to ensure they are completely extinguished.” 

The smallest spark can start a huge fire that can spread and become unmanageable very quickly — whether it’s from a cigarette butt, or working in a dry, grassy area, or hot exhaust on a vehicle, or off-highway vehicle. It’s important to be mindful off what the conditions are at the time, and the environment you are in. 

Schoepp encourages residents in the area to look into the FireSmart program for their property. 

“There's a lot of wooded areas around we do, we do hit home hard on the FireSmart program, and right now we're really ramping that up and getting people aware because we will we will come out to your home assess your property, free of charge,” he said. 

All it takes is a call to the county office to line that up. Alternatively, there is also now a FireSmart app for your phone that helps with personalized suggestions for making your property for fire safe — maybe you need to cut back some trees or clean up other debris. 

“Honestly, look where we live — there's a lot of forest. There’s a lot of timber that will burn and we need to be smart about it,” said Schoepp. 

“It's up to the public to keep an eye out for smoke and grass fires. We are in that season, it is happening. Just be vigilant and call it in if you think it's an issue, to 911 of course, and the fire departments here in the county are fully prepared.” 

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About the Author: Chris Zwick

Athabasca Advocate editor
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