Weather sparks Stettler’s countywide fire ban

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  • Oct. 5, 2011 11:00 a.m.

JOHN MACNEIL

Independent editor

A combination of dry and windy weather prompted the County of Stettler to issue a countywide fire ban last week.

“We had some pretty windy days and dry weather, and no sign of that letting up,” Stettler Regional Fire Chief Mark Dennis said Monday.

“Essentially, that’s the reason why.”

The ban is expected to remain in effect indefinitely and this week is being expanded to include White Sands and Rochon Sands.

“Until we get a decent amount of moisture, we’ll probably leave the fire ban,” Dennis said. “So, we’d have to get a decent, good steady rain — or you know the S-word.”

That’s S as in snow, but that scenario isn’t in the immediate forecast for Stettler.

“It’s more of a precautionary thing,” Dennis said of instituting the ban. “We’ve been busy with a few baler fires and a few fires like that, but we’ve been pretty fortunate this year. We haven’t had any major, large fires.

“It’s more … just to make people aware that the conditions are pretty severe right now.”

As the harvest season winds down, conditions are ripe for a fire to grow out of control, Dennis said.

“All the fields are ripe and been harvested. There’s nothing really to stop a wildfire from spreading. And, this time of year, we just ask (landowners) to use extra caution.”

“We generally put a fire ban on just to make them aware that, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty bad right now.’ So, that’s why.”

The ban prohibits fire guardians in the county from approving fire permits and it suspends all outstanding fire permits issued under the Forest and Prairie Protection Act.

As Albertans head into Thanksgiving long weekend, the ban includes all open campfires.

Dennis said people have respected the ban since it was instituted last week.

“We haven’t had any complaints. We haven’t had anybody phone in. We haven’t had any problems. It’s been good. And, this (past) weekend, we had zero calls for any complaints, or fires for that matter.”

The ban gives fire authorities the mandate they need to manage the fire threat.

“It allows us to discontinue the fire permits, because people (otherwise) just continue to burn … as long as we keep giving them permits, they’ll just keep going,” Dennis said.

“People just sort of get complacent. They don’t realize that, ‘Yeah, the grass is all dried up now,’ and if something gets out of their burn barrel, it’s going to spread.”

Agricultural representatives advised Dennis early this week that the harvest in the region is 98 per cent completed.

“We might have made it through the season without any major fires — knock on wood,” he said.

“Generally, there’s so much activity (at this time of the year). There’s so much equipment out there, with the possibility of bearings and chaff catching on fire, and hot knives and all those sorts of things, the chances of having a wildfire increase immensely because of that.”

Stettler regional firefighters answered a harvest-related call last week, but the incident wasn’t out of control.

“We responded to a combine fire where a fellow managed to get it out on his own,” Dennis said. “He had the proper equipment. He had a fire extinguisher and was able to get it out before it turned into a big wildfire, or him losing his machine.”

Fire Prevention Week is scheduled for the coming week, beginning Saturday.

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