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Alberta rainfall helps crews contain Fort McMurray wildfire

Just as the rain and cool weather helped keep wildfires at bay, a change to hot and dry weather can bring raging wildfires back, says Minister Todd Loewen.
Firefighters and heavy equipment operators have taken advantage of the recent rain to make progress on containing the wildfire south of Fort McMurray. The wildfire is now classified as being held. This means that given current weather conditions and resources, the wildfire is not anticipated to grow past expected boundaries.

It was a wet and cool long weekend for most of Alberta, and this weather was especially pertinent to firefighters working up north on the Fort McMurray wildfire.

Since Saturday, May 18, wildfire MWF-017 has been categorized as being held at 19,451 hectares.

“We recorded more than 45 mm of rain on the wildfire outside Fort McMurray over the weekend, but it doesn't mean our work there is done,” said Alberta Wildfire Information Unit Manager Christie Tucker during the May 23 weekly provincial wildfire update.

Firefighters, aircraft and heavy equipment are still working the wildfire with more than 200 crew members on the ground to reinforce containment lines and extinguish hotspots.

That’s the good news, said Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen.

“The hard work and preparation from Alberta Wildfire and municipal firefighters allowed us to take advantage of the recent rains, which has led to a significant decline in active wildfires since last week,” he said.

The state of local emergency and the evacuation order for four Fort McMurray neighbourhoods was also lifted on Saturday, and people have been returning home since the weekend.

The fire ban in the southern part of the Fort McMurray Forest Area has been downgraded to a fire advisory and the off-highway vehicle restriction has also been lifted. A fire ban remains in effect in the northern section of the Fort McMurray Forest Area and a fire advisory is in effect in the High Level Forest Area.

The wildfire danger in the Edson Forest Area is considered low. Since the start of the year, that area has had 33 wildfires burning a total of 80 hectares. 

Wildfire GCU-007 outside of Grande Prairie is now listed as under control at 1,298 hectares.

There are currently 30 wildfires burning in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta, 20 of which are carryover wildfires from the 2023 season. Three of the 30 are being held and the rest are under control. Since the start of 2024, Alberta Wildfire has responded to 358 wildfires, 346 of which have been extinguished.

“Elsewhere in the province, we had 33 new starts detected between Friday and Monday, most of those were determined to be caused by people recreating outdoors,” Tucker said.

So far in 2024, more than 75 per cent of wildfires have been caused by people, up from an average of 66 per cent.

“This unfortunately is not good news,” Loewen said.

“Despite our efforts to remind Albertans and visitors about the importance of taking extra care with any action that could cause a wildfire, over the May long weekend, 25 abandoned campfires were detected in the Calgary Forest Area. These were quickly extinguished by patrol staff, but if wildfire danger had been higher, these easily could have led to new catastrophic wildfire starts over the long weekend.”

This time last year, the province had recorded more than 520,000 hectares of forest burned. Currently, that amount is just under 29,000 hectares.

All of that can change dramatically if the weather allows it to.

“It's important to remember that conditions can change very quickly in Alberta, leading to heightened wildfire danger and activity. Alberta's government will continue to proactively respond to changes in wildfire risk level as the season progresses,” Loewen said.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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