Alberta has introduced stricter fire restrictions in response to the increasing risks of wildfires, marking the start of the 2024 wildfire season earlier than anticipated. The province is on high alert due to an extended period of drought, signaling a critical phase in fire risk.

A fast-moving wildfire in the Peace River region forced the evacuation of approximately 30 residents on Tuesday. The nearby Peace River Correctional Facility also evacuated inmates as a safety measure. Earlier, around 20 individuals from the Cold Lake First Nation had to leave their homes because of another blaze, although they were later allowed to return.

Western Canada Braces for Severe Wildfire Season

These recent evacuations suggest a challenging wildfire season ahead for western Canada, which is already facing the consequences of extensive drought and unusually high spring temperatures. To date, Alberta has experienced 205 wildfires this season, burning roughly 755 hectares of land—a sharp increase from the five-year average of 120 wildfires affecting 230 hectares, according to Alberta Wildfire’s Josee St-Onge.

“This is a critical time for wildfire in Alberta, snow has melted and exposed dead and dry vegetation which is extremely flammable,” St-Onge said. “Until vegetation green-up happens wildfires will easily ignite and spread very quickly.”

The year 2023 stands as Canada’s most devastating wildfire season, with over 6,600 fires burning close to 15 million hectares. The fires claimed the lives of eight firefighters and led to the evacuation of about 230,000 people.

Proactive Measures and Fire Bans Implemented

In light of the current threats, Alberta Forestry Minister Todd Loewen announced the successful extinguishment of 200 wildfires this year. “The rise in wildfire starts this year signals high danger levels but also shows our response strategies are working,” said Loewen. The province has now enforced immediate fire bans to limit the use of open flames outdoors, including campfires and bonfires.

To strengthen the fight against wildfires and limit risks, Alberta is increasing its wildfire fighter force, with recruitment up by 39% over the previous year. This surge in hiring aims to boost Alberta’s capacity to tackle and manage wildfires more effectively, safeguarding communities and natural resources from the devastating impacts of these disasters.

Image Source: Government of Alberta