Alberta is starting its wildfire season a month early after flames last year torched almost 5,000 square kilometres.
Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier said Tuesday the extra time provided with the March 1 launch will ensure that crews are recruited, trained and positioned to respond quickly to any wildfires that break out in early spring and through the year.
Carlier said the province is already wondering how the mild, dry winter will affect the fire threat in the forest zone.
“While it is difficult to predict what weather conditions will be like in the weeks and months ahead, we know right now that there has been below-average snow and rainfall across much of Alberta over the past few months,” Carlier said.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and be ready to respond if and when we are needed.”
Alberta’s early approach comes from painful experience.
The province has been starting its wildfire season a month early since the year after the May 2011 fire that destroyed part of the Town of Slave Lake and forced thousands of people from their homes.
Last year, there were 1,786 wildfires in Alberta — more than twice the 25-year average.
Crews managed to contain 93 per cent of wildfires within about a day and prevented flames from entering any communities.
The cost wasn’t cheap. Alberta spent $474 million on wildfires last year.
Carlier said it is prudent to be prepared.
“It really gives us a leg-up on what we anticipate might be again a very busy fire season.”
Hot, dry weather also made 2015 a bad year for wildfires in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Fires north of Prince Albert, Sask., forced 13,000 people from their homes and destroyed huge areas of timber. The government’s response to the fires cost about $100 million.
B.C. recorded more than 1,836 wildfires that burned 2,804 square kilometres. The firefighting bill is estimated at $290 million.
There were so many wildfires last year that the three provinces brought in crews from other countries to help out. Saskatchewan also called in Canadian Army units.
The early start of the wildfire season in Alberta will require people who live in forested areas to obtain fire permits a month early, although campfires are excluded.