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Wildfire season handed a start date, and it's extra early

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Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, April 27, 2016, 10:19 AM - At least one western province plans to get the jump on the 2016 wildfire season by circling a date on the calendar.

Alberta will officially start the season on March 1, a month earlier than usual. On that day, all burning activities in forested areas will require a burning permit, except for campfires, and training will begin for firefighters.

Oneil Carlier, the province's agriculture and forestry minister, said though there may be snow on the ground in some areas, spring isn't far off, bringing with it warmer temperatures.

"While it's difficult to predict what the weather conditions will be like in the weeks and months ahead, we know right now that there has been below average snow and rainfall over much of Alberta over the past few months," Carlier said.

Image: Prairie wildfires, June 2015. NASA Earth Observatory

Western Canada's arid summer last year fuelled one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. In Alberta, more than 1,800 fires burned almost 500,000 hectares of land, according to the province's wildfire management branch.

Saskatchewan and British Columbia also struggled with widespread wildfire emergencies.

The human impact was greatest in Saskatchewan, where out-of-control fires in the north forced the evacuation of 13,000 people and required troop deployments to bolster firefighters' efforts. More than 1.7 million hectares burned.

Saskatchewan government spokeswoman Karen Hill says the province is maintaining its official wildfire season start date of April 1 for now. However, with warmer temperatures and below normal snowfall in northern Saskatchewan this season, authorities are getting ready for an early start if need be.

"All preparations are on schedule, including aircraft and equipment maintenance, seasonal staff hiring, contracting of specialized services and staff training," Hill told The Weather Network. "But, to prepare for a potential early start to the fire season, the ministry will be bringing aircraft into service sooner than normal, and recalling wildfire crews two weeks earlier than usual to ensure full preparedness."

In B.C., some 280,000 hectares burned, choking Interior valleys and communities with smoke, which at times extended into the Lower Mainland. The province spent $290 million on the fight, exceeding its alotted wildfire budget early in the summer.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory

Weather Network meteorologist Tyler Hamilton says B.C.'s Interior has mostly seen about average snowfall levels compared to climate normals. Some mountain peaks have even seen higher-than-normal totals so far this season.

"That'll allow a pretty typical runoff in the spring for B.C.," Hamilton, adding while that will have an impact in the early part of the season, it's not an indication of how wet or dry the province's summer and fall weather will be.

SOURCES: Alberta Wildfire Management | B.C. Wildfire Management | Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre

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