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Dry weather sparks campfire ban

Sturgeon County has banned most outdoor fires this week due to extremely dry conditions. County fire chief Pat Mahoney issued a fire restriction for Sturgeon County on Monday. The Town of Morinville issued a fire advisory soon after.
A fire fighter works to control the spread of the fire that had been burning dried reeds and willow trees along Big Lake.
A fire fighter works to control the spread of the fire that had been burning dried reeds and willow trees along Big Lake.

Sturgeon County has banned most outdoor fires this week due to extremely dry conditions.

County fire chief Pat Mahoney issued a fire restriction for Sturgeon County on Monday.

The Town of Morinville issued a fire advisory soon after.

Campfires, burn barrels, and fireworks displays are off-limits until further notice in Sturgeon County, Mahoney said.

“We’ve suspended all permits that would have been issued, and we’re not issuing any more burn permits or fireworks permits.”

Mahoney said he made this decision in response to extremely dry conditions in the county, which saw about 10 grass and brush fires over the weekend. He asked anyone who did any outdoor burns in recent weeks to make sure those fires were completely extinguished.

The county has brought in similar restrictions in each of the last four years. This year’s restriction has started about four weeks early – a reflection of the unusually warm and early spring, Mahoney said.

Residents can still use propane or natural gas barbecues and backyard fire-pits, the latter of which must have a spark-arresting grate and be at least three metres from buildings, property lines, or other combustible materials.

Anyone who otherwise lights a fire in the county while this restriction is in place can be fined $500 plus the cost to extinguish it, Mahoney said.

Mahoney said the county’s fire restriction would likely last at least a few weeks until the fields start to green up.

Morinville’s fire advisory is a notch below a restriction in that it doesn’t actually ban fires. Instead, the town has asked residents to use great caution when using licensed backyard fire pits or lighting recreational fires in parks. Fires outside of approved fire pits are not allowed in Morinville, and said pits cannot be used to burn trash or yard waste.

There were about 24 active wildfires in Alberta as of Monday, reports Alberta Agriculture. About nine communities, including Westlock County, had issued fire restrictions, while about 44, including Parkland and Lac Ste. Anne County, had completely banned outdoor fires.

While dry conditions did fuel a large grass fire last week near Big Lake, St. Albert had yet to issue any restrictions on fires as of Tuesday. That means residents can hold outdoor fires if they have a permit or do so in an inspected fire pit.

Humidity levels in the St. Albert region dropped to nine per cent at about 8 p.m. Monday, said St. Albert fire investigator Les David Mroz – the lowest he’s ever seen. That, plus high winds and temperatures, made for perfect conditions for fire spread.

St. Albert hasn’t brought in a ban because it doesn’t have the rural activities and thick, flammable brush of the county, Mroz said. Residents are also very adept at the safe use of fire pits; his staff couldn’t recall any wildfires started by a pit in the last 40 years.

But that doesn’t rule out illegal fires, such as the campfire that started the Big Lake blaze last week. Near as Mroz can tell, someone simply threw down a circle of stones and tried to cook some beans and buns in it.

“That’s not a common sense approach to fire prevention,” he said.

Residents should not light outdoor fires when it’s dry and windy out, should use caution when disposing of cigarette butts, and should always use a spark-arresting grate over their fire pits, Mroz said. He encouraged residents to report illegal campfires as soon as they saw them.

“Our human activities often are a contributor to the start of these fires, and (they) certainly are preventable.”

Albertafirebans.ca has the full list of outdoor fire restrictions.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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