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Sturgeon County grass fires start three weeks early

The Sturgeon County fire department started putting out grass fires in March, while St. Albert's fire department has already dealt with two grass fires

The Sturgeon County fire department says it has dealt with 14 grass and brush fires already this spring.

The fires are coming three weeks earlier than is typical for the season, said Chad Moore, manager of protective services and Sturgeon County fire chief.

“It is drier this year, and with low snowpack, so we are seeing more of the small fires,” Moore said. “Last year, it was more in the last two weeks of April when we started to see this.”

Moore said that the fire department was contending with its first grass fires in the third week of March.

While most of the fires have been easily managed, a fire in late March spread to roughly 2500 square feet and took several hours to get under control.

All the fires have been caused by people, and they have all been accidental, Moore said.

Unextinguished fire pits, burning barrels and sparks from metal work have been the main culprits.

“Anything that has a heat source or can create a spark has that potential to light a fire,” Moore said.

Patches of tall, dry grass pose a particularly high fire risk in the spring. Moore cautioned that any heat source put near the grass can cause a fire that may grow faster than one person can put out safely.

“We’d prefer if you didn't burn, but at this point in the season … we’re asking folks just to be careful,” he said.

Because the fire season is just beginning, none of the fires have yet reached the “extreme” level being seen in some parts of the province.

Moore said he’s hopeful for lots of moisture later in the spring. But the department isn’t taking any chances.

“We started earlier this year, doing all of our training and checking over equipment,” he said. “We had everything ready at the start of March as we started to prep all of our trucks, where normally we might wait later to do that.”

That head start has helped with managing the early grass fires, he said.

The department has also been coordinating with other, nearby fire departments to prepare for what could be another smoke-filled summer.

“We're feeling comfortable, but cautious as we head into the season,” he said.

St. Albert Fire Services has responded to two grass fires this spring, said fire chief Everett Cooke in an email. The first fire started on April 1 and the second happened on April 11. Both fires were on St. Albert Trail.

“The cause of both fires is under investigation,” Cooke said. “When dry, hot and windy conditions occur, the risk of fire can increase, and residents should use extra caution when disposing of cigarette butts in fire safe containers and be proactive about fire prevention to protect their property and community.”

Due to unusually dry and warm weather, the province declared wildfire season on February 20 this year, 10 days earlier than the usual March 1 start date.

As of press time there were 53 active wildfires in the province, according to the Alberta wildfire status dashboard

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