As wildfire season comes to a close, Albertans should continue to be cautious when enjoying the province’s beautiful forests. Dry conditions can continue outside of wildfire season, through the fall and winter months.

Oct. 31 marked the end of the legislated wildfire season in Alberta.

“Our world-class wildland firefighting staff have worked diligently to keep Albertans and their communities safe. Despite seeing more wildfires than average starting over the dry spring and summer months, our expert staff were very successful in managing the fires, leading to less forest area being burned.”

Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry

During the 2021 season, a total of 1,307 wildfires burned 52,955 hectares (130,855 acres). This is in comparison to the five-year average of 1,123 wildfires burning 317,326 hectares (784,129 acres) between 2016 and 2020.

Thanks to manageable conditions at home and the absence of large wildfires like those in 2016 and 2019, Alberta was able to help eight other jurisdictions this summer, exporting a total of 492 firefighters, aircraft and equipment to agency partners in need.

This includes sending 111 firefighters and 64 support staff to British Columbia, 250 firefighters and 12 support staff to Ontario. The province also supported Manitoba, Quebec, the Northwest Territories, Alaska, Washington and the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

Human-caused wildfires

Sixty-two per cent of wildfires this season were caused by human activity, 33 per cent were caused by lightning and roughly five per cent are still under investigation.

On average, the total number of human-caused wildfires has been declining in recent years, demonstrating the value of wildfire prevention programs and Albertans doing their part to reduce the number of these preventable wildfires.

There are many ways human activity can cause wildfires, such as by leaving campfires unattended, burning debris, sparks from off-highway vehicles and arson.

Wildfire technology

Alberta Wildfire continues to evaluate cutting-edge technology in order to quickly identify high-risk areas, strategically place resources where they are needed most and efficiently attack wildfires as they occur.

Alberta Wildfire has been working with partners at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and FPInnovations on the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in wildfire management. Test flights were successfully completed this wildfire season and evaluations of this testing will inform the potential future use of RPAS.

Alberta Wildfire worked with FPInnovations to document and evaluate gel operations in Alberta during the 2021 wildfire season. About two million litres of water-enhancing gel have been applied to test gel efficiency and cost effectiveness in supressing wildfires.

The new Alberta Wildfire mobile application was launched in the spring and has been downloaded to almost 45,000 devices.

The updated Alberta Wildfire status map saw 682,151 visits to the website from March 1 to Oct. 31, an increase of almost 500,000 compared to the same period last year.

Winter burning

Fire permits are not required in the Forest Protection Area outside of wildfire season but best practices should still be followed for fall or winter burning. Monitor weather conditions to burn safely and ensure smoke will not negatively affect the surrounding areas. Check fall and winter burn sites in the spring to ensure they are completely out. Fall wildfires can continue to smoulder over the winter months, reigniting above ground in the spring.