The massive wildfire that destroyed much of Fort McMurray last May is under control and contained, but will likely burn underground throughout the winter.
According to Lynn Daina of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the flames have long been extinguished, but embers are still burning across an area estimated to be 589,552 hectares in size, including a portion within northwestern Saskatchewan. It was declared under control July 4.
It is the biggest fire in Wood Buffalo since 2011, when the Richardson Fire burned an area of 705,075 hectares. That fire burned from mid-May until September.
When a fire burns as long and as intensely as the Fort McMurray one, it is not unusual for the fires to smoulder underground during the winter, feeding on peat and dead vegetation, then return to the surface in the spring.
“All we can do is keep an eye on it. In the winter, it won’t do anything. There’s no threat of the fire breaking out at this time,” said Daina. “If we get lots of snow and a nice and slow thaw, that can do a lot to extinguish some of the remaining embers.”
Once spring approaches, forestry workers will begin scanning the area for hot spots.
The wildfire hazard level is classified as low, but forestry workers are warning campers and hunters to make sure campfires are completely extinguished.
Anyone using off-road vehicles should be wary of the temperatures of their vehicles. The exhaust on some vehicles, for instance, can reach temperatures of 204 Celsius. Coming into contact with vegetation at that temperature can dry out the muskeg, creating more fuel for fires.
Anyone using firearms should also pick up their spent casings.