Three wildfires have already occurred in the Edson Forest Area since March 1.

The three wildfires, causes unknown, arising from outdoor burning, were all less than one hectare, said Area Information Coordinator Joan Simonton, a forestry official with Agriculture and Forestry.

“Winter burns can burn underneath the ground and reignite,” she explained.

Campfires don’t need permits.

The traditional start to forest fire season used to be April 1 but for the last five years the date has been moved ahead to March 1.

The rationale behind an earlier fire season is as follows:

· This is the fifth consecutive year that the AB Agriculture and Forestry (AF) has started wildfire season early on March 1. (2006 also saw an early start);

· AF is being proactive and following recommendations from the report that followed the 2011 wildfires in the Slave Lake area. The report found “wildfires are starting earlier; therefore, preparation needs to begin earlier in the season”.;

· Quote from Oneil Carlier, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, “By beginning one month early, we can more effectively monitor burning activities and also ensure that our firefighters are well prepared to responded quickly when wildfires are detected.”;

· Beginning March 1, a permit is required for all planned fires, except campfires, in Alberta’s Forest Protection Area. Fire permits are free and available from your local Agriculture and Forestry office;

· A fire permit basically allows forestry to track where burning is actively going on so that if one of our lookout observers sees smoke they will know if it’s safe, permitted burn and resources are not dispatched that could be used elsewhere; and,

· Starting wildfire season early allows ESRD to take inventory of any fall and winter burning that needs to be extinguished.

“We headed into winter pretty dry again, so it’s looking pretty dry now. It depends what kind of rain we get in the spring,” said Simonton.

Part of the staffing requirement includes lookout towers – and there’s good news on that front.

“We’re very fortunate to have all but two of our lookout observers returning this year. One retired after 35 years of working as a lookout observer throughout Alberta, and the other moved on to something different. We have hired two folks to complete our roster of lookout observers,” said Simonton.

Towers will start operating April 6 and 7, with four lookouts activated. Five more will come on stream in mid-May, with the rest in operation on June 1.

In 2015 the Edson Forest Area statistics were as follows:

· We had a total of 121 wildfires; up from the 90 wildfires reported in 2014;

· Forty-five of these wildfires were started by lightning;

· Approximately 60 per cent of wildfires were human caused; Which means 100 per cent preventable;

· The majority of human-caused wildfires in the Edson Forest Area are started from abandoned campfires, and unsafe burning debris in barrels and piles;

· Some of the ways we can help reduce human caused fires is an earlier start to fire season and issuing permits to burn;

· Total area burned in the Edson Forest Area was approximately 14,000 hectares with approximately 12,000 of the total area burned from the wildfire in Willmore Wilderness Area; and,

Last year’s provincial wildfire season produced 1,786 wildfires that burned over 492,000 hectares, more than twice the 25-year average.