Wildfire officials are keeping their fingers crossed for a wet spring.
“We did actually get average to above-average snowfall for most areas of the province, so that’s a really good start,” said provincial wildfire information officer Anastasia Drummond. “But what’s really going to tell the story now is our spring precipitation.”
April 1 marked the beginning of Alberta’s wildfire season, which lasts until Oct. 31, and so far the hazard is low, said Drummond.
Some areas of the province still have high snowpacks, while others have rain forecasted. Those areas have little risk of fire at this point.
But there is a risk of grass fires. That risk won’t subside until the province gets rain and vegetation turns green – which typically isn’t until May, said Drummond.
In southern areas where the snowpack has already melted, the risk of grass fires is higher, she noted.
Any rain to keep the wildfire risk low is helpful, she said, but what she’s hoping for is spring showers falling on a regular basis.
That, said Drummond, will give the ground time to absorb the moisture rather than just washing away into streams as often happens in downpours.
With wildfire season just underway, Drummond says the department is still gearing up right now.
New forest firefighters and veterans will soon be put into training and the department’s aircraft fleet is slowly being put back into service in time for May when the hazard can start to rise.
The department is monitoring areas where the hazard could increase more quickly, Drummond said. For those spots, the department will have resources ready on a faster timetable.
Meanwhile, the cold snap that hit Alberta in January may have done serious damage to the mountain pine beetle.
Mountain pine beetle information officer Joanna Byers said a temperature of -40 C sustained for 24 hours or longer has been shown to help kill off the pine-killing pests.
Those conditions were reported in January in the west central parts of the province where the beetle infestation has been the worst.
However, Byers said until actual counts are done in May, just how many beetles were killed won’t be known.
“We’re cautiously optimistic right now but nothing has been confirmed,” she said.
Southern parts of the province where the beetle has also been seen in smaller numbers did not see the same cold temperatures.