Seventy-two wildfires were burning in Alberta on Friday, even as the province marked the official end of the wildfire season.
Alberta’s legislated wildfire season, which starts March 1, ended on Tuesday and was characterized by “unusually hot, dry and windy spring weather” which set a brisk pace for the summer that followed.
On May 6 – as some 122,000 hectares of land burned and after 24,000 Albertans had fled their homes – the province declared a state of emergency.
Over the course of the season, 1,094 fires would burn a record 2.2 million hectares. While the five-year average is 1,110 wildfires, the 2023 season saw 10 times the amount of land burned.
Thousands of firefighters from other provinces, as well as the U.S., South Africa, New Zealand, Chile and Costa Rica, and the Canadian Armed Forces came to Alberta’s aid.
In total, 38,000 Albertans were displaced by evacuation orders affecting 48 communities, including some that were evacuated more than once.
People across the province lost homes and community facilities.
“Our province faced an unprecedented challenge this past wildfire season. Wildfire staff worked tirelessly to keep our forests and communities safe, showing strength and determination through their efforts,” Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen said in a Friday statement. “While this season was not without its difficulties, the way Albertans and industry leaders stepped up to support their neighbours was nothing short of inspiring.”
ALL FIRES HELD OR UNDER CONTROL
The majority of wildfires burning on Friday – 57 – were considered under control by Alberta Wildfire. The rest were classified as “being held.” All of the active fires were located in central and northern Alberta.
A handful of fires continued to burn west of Edmonton along Highway 16 and in the Lodgepole area. These were all considered under control.
The fires that are rated as “being held” are mostly located in the northwestern corner of the province.
About 450,000 hectares were ablaze to the south and east of Hay River, near the B.C. boundary.
“While Oct. 31 marked the end of Alberta’s legislated wildfire season, the threat of wildfire persists in many areas of the province. Alberta Wildfire is prepared to respond to any new fires, but as this season demonstrated, all Albertans have a responsibility to prevent wildfires,” the provincial department said in a statement Friday.
“Albertans are urged to remain cautious as wildfires can start at any time of year under the right conditions.”
The cause of less than five per cent of 2023’s wildfires are under investigation. About 61 per cent of wildfires were started by human activity; about 35 per cent by lightning.
Alberta Wildfire said it has begun planning for 2024 and improving on existing technology or techniques.
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