Smoke has drifted into St. Albert from some of the wildfires that erupted suddenly in the British Columbia interior late last week.
This is a stark reminder that conditions can become ripe for fire quickly.
More than 14,000 people have been evacuated from communities as more than 220 wildfires burn in B.C. Fires were ignited by lightning and fanned by winds that have fed off tinder-dry forests. Fires riddle a 500 km swathe in the south from Princeton to north of Prince George. The largest fire was north of Kamloops and by Tuesday covered more than 60 square kilometres.
A heat wave in the B.C. interior dried out grass and forest that was ignited mostly by lightning storms. In some cases people are believed to have started the fires through careless handling of campfires or smoking materials.
The fires remind us of the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray that evacuated more than 80,000 people in May of last year and which cost more than $3.5 billion. Thousands of people were traumatized and hundreds lost their homes.
As of Monday, 60 Alberta firefighters hit the ground at the command centre in B.C. to be dispatched to wherever the need is greatest along with hundreds of other firefighters. So far the St. Albert fire department – which sent pumpers and manpower to fight Fort Mac fires last year – has not been asked to help out in B.C.
A wet spring has kept fire risk low in most of Alberta. But that can change quickly. A period of sustained high temperatures, like the ones experienced for much of Alberta last weekend, could create similar conditions to B.C. Then all it takes is an ignition source like lightning to start fires.
While we can’t prevent lightning strike fires, we can prevent fires started by humans. Last year Mike Flanigan, a forest fire researcher from the University of Alberta, said that half of all wildfires in Canada are caused by humans.
St. Albert is not as vulnerable to the type of wildfires as have evacuated many communities, since forests do not surround the city. The biggest danger we pose is when they venture outside of the city into forested areas to camp or just enjoy the great outdoors.
Local residents are among the record number of visitors pouring into our national parks this year because park entry is free to mark Canada’s 150th birthday. It is imperative that we extinguish all smoking materials, so that we don’t start any fires.
The cost of wildfires is in the billions of dollars, but wildfires also threaten lives and livelihoods. The cost in loss of personal property and the trauma to victims of fire is beyond measure.
St. Albertans have shown we are willing to step up to help wildfire victims, but we must also be mindful and proactive about preventing them. As the old adage says: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We need to do all in our power to prevent human-caused fires.