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Drought risks begin to ratchet up

By March 21, 2024No Comments
Potential drought conditions in parts of Western Canada could result in firefighters being deployed to help fight wildfires anywhere in Alberta. Lloydminster Fire Department chief, Aaron Buckingham, accepted a department award along with four firefighters for helping contain a May 2023 grass fire in the County of Grande Prairie. County fire chief, Trevor Grant, recognized their help in a ceremony at Fire Hall No. 1 earlier this month. Geoff Lee Meridian Source

 

It’s up to Mother Nature whether drought conditions will prevail for another year in parts of Western Canada and increase the risk of wildfires.

Four members of the Lloydminster Fire Department, who were recognized last week for helping the County of Grande Prairie contain a wildfire last May, could be called out again, according to the county’s fire chief, Trevor Grant.

“It all depends on what the spring brings us. We have low snowpack, but if we get a wet spring, the risk is going to be much lower,” said Grant at Fire Hall No. 1 in Lloyd last Monday.

“We’re just preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Lloydminster was on Grant’s seven-stop provincial tour to thank all community firefighters who rushed to the aid of the county, including Canadian Armed Forces personnel.

This year, Alberta and Saskatchewan are one step away from declaring a province-wide emergency in their shared five-stage water shortage management plan.

Both provinces are currently in stage 4, where multiple water management areas are impacted by water shortage.

Alberta is experiencing extremely low water levels due to below-average snowpack and precipitation over the past several months, resulting in less runoff to rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

Water licence holders in southern Alberta are now developing water-sharing agreements to prepare for low flow conditions. 

In Saskatchewan, water users in the North Saskatchewan River watershed are not being asked to prepare water-sharing agreements, but are asked to prepare water shortage response plans. 

Grant noted precipitation in his area is just 40 per cent of normal this year, compared to 75 per cent when Lloydminster responded to the call for extra resources for the May 5, 2023 fire that covered 1,500 hectares.

Lloydminster sent four firefighters and a chief officer along with a pump truck and command vehicle to assist in the provincial fire fighting efforts.

“Members from Lloydminster were key to making sure the fire didn’t breach the perimeter after we got it established,” said Grant although four homes went up in flames.

“We did protect about 440 homes. Without their help, we would have been taxed,” said Grant.

Ironically, the four celebrated Lloydminster firefighters were late for the recognition ceremony as they were called out to a structural fire. 

First Onsite Property Restoration, which operates in Lloydminster has some tips for homeowners and businesses on things to look out for during the event of a wildfire.

“When we get a major fire close to homes or businesses, there is a risk, not only of evacuation and an impact to residents’ lives, but a looming threat of business interruption as well,” said First Onsite senior vice president, Jim Mandeville.

“Nevertheless, the early start and frequency of this year’s fires is notable and the unpredictability of when and where these blazes are going to start is concerning to many in the region.”

Mandeville warns large fires can start close to populated areas with no notice, so it’s crucial to be prepared and that means listening to authorities. 

“If a community is on evacuation alert, residents need to be ready to go at the drop of a hat, equipped with a full tank of gas and a packed bag. Moving quickly can protect lives,” he said. 

The Insurance Bureau of Canada notes standard homeowner’s and tenant’s insurance policies cover damage caused by wildfire.

Most policies also cover additional living expenses, such as for hotels or other accommodations, if you are evacuated.

For businesses, Mandeville says preparation can be a complex matter, but is an important step toward mitigating risk and minimizing the impact of a wildfire event.

That includes mitigating health risks from poor air quality from wildfire smoke up to 1,000 kilometres from the actual fire scene.

Mandeville says for business owners, employees, and residents, breathing in wildfire smoke can be dangerous, and providing clean air for employees, customers, tenants, and residents is a priority. 

“Employers can take steps to protect workers, including allowing for flexible work schedules on low air quality days and installing additional air scrubbing equipment,” he said. 

Mandeville also advises homeowners and businesses to take steps such as making their roof fire-resistant, clearing away gutter debris, removing nearby coniferous trees, pruning trees and keeping the lawn mowed, using fire-smart landscaping, and having an evacuation plan. 

Additionally, it’s critical to ensure that businesses and homes have adequate insurance coverage.