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RVC Fire Chief talks fire prevention and grass fire concerns for 2024

With fire season starting soon, Rocky View County (RVC) firefighters are preparing for a similar season as to what they saw last year.

With fire season starting soon, Rocky View County (RVC) firefighters are preparing for a similar season as to what they saw last year, says RVC Fire Chief Ken Hubbard. 

“We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” said Hubbard in a recent interview with the Rocky View Weekly

With less snow and extended periods of windy and dry conditions this past winter, Hubbard said the County is likely to see a repeat of last year’s fire forecasting.

“We know that we have some windy conditions that carry on from spring and summer and unprecedented dry conditions in the same time frame with the wind and the heat are likely to collaborate with the same conditions in our wildfire season for 2023."

With such dry conditions, and low moisture levels, Hubbard said the potential for grass fires isn't really confined to any one season or time of year.

In December, RVC firefighters responded to a large grass fire northwest of Airdrie near Madden. Although it may seem out of the ordinary for a grass fire to pop up in the heart of winter, Hubbard said that the fire service has had to deal with grass fires at many different points throughout the year.

Hubbard said that over the last three years the fire service has seen a 27 per cent increase in grass fire volume, and in 2023 it was “about a 16 per cent increase year over year compared to 2022.” 

With drought-like conditions expected to continue well into the spring and summer, it’s easy to foresee the smoke in the air and reports of cities and towns dealing with lingering and dangerous fires.

“I know in 2023 we had 112 days that we were under a fire ban,” said Hubbard.  “I can predict that if the drier conditions in 2024, we're likely to have 100 days of fire bans through the summer and maybe more.”

Fire prevention and preparation key to combating fires in 2024

According to Alberta Wildfire Statistics, there were 1,088 wildfires recorded in the province and 61 per cent of them were human-caused. Hubbard said that things like fireworks, firearms discharges, and unattended outdoor fires are usually the primary cause of fires. 

“With human-caused fires, prevention is the key to make sure we prevent those fires,” said Hubbard.

Hubbard also mentioned residents should avoid driving through dry, grassy areas with vehicles during dry conditions as heated mufflers and undercarriages can ignite these grasses and start large fires.

Hubbard mentioned that the County offers a service called Fire Smart that provides proper fire prevention techniques and tips to help residents avoid potential dangerous situations that could cause large, uncontrolled fires. 

“A lot of the 61 per cent [of Alberta wildfires] can be prevented with [safe] thought processes when we interact with nature,” said Hubbard. 

As for grass fire prevention from the RVC Fire Service's perspective, Hubbard said local firefighters prefer a team approach.

“A number of different agencies come together to look after any larger scale emergencies and we bring in other resources as needed," he said. "That would be no different in 2024.”

The dry conditions have caused water sources that the County’s fire service typically relies on to combat grass fires, like lakes or ponds, to be less reliable when it comes to water procurement for fighting fires. The lack of moisture may also be a significant problem when fire season really gets going later in the spring, but Hubbard is hopeful some moisture will return to the land by then. 

“We're optimistic we'll get some moisture through the spring before crops get into the ground that will assist us with eliminating some of that extra risk,” said Hubbard. 

But as it currently stands, Hubbard said that the fire service is looking to be proactive when it comes to fire prevention in 2024. 

“One of the things we are looking at is expanding our fire ban requirements throughout the summer to make sure we're prepared and to have minimal risks to the residents in the area, and help us with anything that does get out of control,” he said.


Riley Stovka

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