Alberta campers take precautions as province-wide fire ban continues
May long weekend often marks the unofficial kickoff to camping season in Alberta, but a province-wide fire ban and volatile wildfire conditions are prompting thousands of outdoor enthusiasts to take precautions.
The fire danger is extreme in northern Alberta and high throughout almost all of the rest of the province with 487 fires having burned 765,000 hectares of land so far.
A fire ban and off-highway vehicle restriction remain in place across the forest protection area, which runs along the foothills and Rocky Mountains, and all of northern Alberta’s boreal forest.
The news of a fire ban comes with mixed emotions for those who were camping at the Elk Flats Camping Area just west of Calgary in the Kananaskis Bow Valley area.
“You know we miss the smell of a good old campfire, but certainly we don’t mind not worrying about spreading wildfires in this area,” said Moe Saunders.
“Everybody here feels it’s really important to follow those rules especially when crews up north are working so hard to manage those wildfires," Saunders said. "We’re thinking of those families who have their homes threatened and we’re so lucky that we can still be here enjoying our long weekend.”
Campers in the area that CTV News spoke with add that they are strictly using propane grills for cooking and also using them for warmth when it gets cooler at night.
The fire ban is also giving younger children like 11-year-old Ben Burroughs cause for concern.
“A fire could spread to other trees, sparks could fly around and we could make more fires, it could be so dangerous and people here might have to evacuate, " he said.
Others like 13-year-old Ada Gray said her camping experience has changed without a traditional campfire, but she recognizes the risk.
“It’s so important because it’s really hot now, everything here is so dry and a wildfire could start in split seconds,” she said.
“We just don’t want to make the wildfire situation we have much worse.”
OFFICIALS CLOSE PROVINCIAL PARKS
The Alberta government has also closed 12 provincial parks and recreation areas to lower the risk of more wildfires spreading.
A full list of closures is available at alberta.ca/emergency.aspx.
Several other provincial sites are being monitored and more closures could be announced in the coming days. Campers with reservations in affected areas will receive a refund.
The province also said its conservation officers will be increasing patrols to ensure compliance with active-wildfire restrictions, closures and fire bans.
As of Saturday, there have been a total of 495 wildfires in 2023 alone across the province, of which 87 remain active including 25 defined as out of control. An estimated 275 structures, including homes, outbuildings, commercial and other properties have also been damaged according to the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
More than 2,800 people are currently working on the fires in the province. There are a total of 17 evacuation orders in place and more than 10,500 Albertans remain evacuated at this point.
Not following fire restrictions could result in penalties, including major fines.
Wildfire officials are also asking Albertans not to take part in recreational activities such as backcountry camping, mountain biking and hiking in areas, including Edson, Grande Prairie, High Level, Peace River, Slave Lake, and Whitecourt Forest areas, as well as the Rocky Mountain Forest area just north of Highway 11.
According to the Alberta Government, recreation was the second most common cause of wildfires between 2006 and 2018, trailing only behind lightning.