If the last few weeks are any indication, the 2021 fire season is well and truly underway in Rocky View County (RVC).
As of April 8, RVC Fire Services members had already responded to multiple grassfires throughout the county and issued a fire ban and advisory.
“We’re in that transition period from when we have snow on the ground to [when] all the grass is bare, brown and dried,” said RVC Fire Chief Randy Smith. “Until things green up, this is something we see every year. Especially when you add in high winds, that just compounds everything and it takes seconds for a fire to get away.”
On April 1, RVC Fire Services crews battled a large grassfire near Ghost Lake, west of Cochrane off of Highway 1A. Due to windy and dry conditions, Smith said the fire spread quickly, resulting in the evacuation of area households and two businesses. A motor vehicle collision was reported because of the lack of visibility brought on by the smoke.
On the same day as the blaze near Ghost Lake, RVC fire crews assisted Calgary firefighters at a separate large grassfire near Symons Valley Road NW, near Bearspaw.
“Fires, they get away so fast and people don’t realize these grassfires run,” Smith said. “They call it a running grassfire for a reason, because they can ‘run’ and keep up to you. It’s very hard, especially when the wind is blowing, to get it under control again.”
Following those two incidents, on April 6, RVC firefighters tended to yet another grassfire near Conrich along Range Road 284.
Smith said grassfires are almost a daily occurrence in RVC at this time of year, though he added most are fairly small and easy for crews to contain.
“It really depends on weather conditions and what is happening in the area,” he said. “If it’s windy, there are large fires and if it’s calm, the crews can usually get a hold of them pretty quickly and put them out.
“Unfortunately, this spring, we’ve had days with really high winds and multiple large grassfires that crews have had to deal with. They are very manpower-intensive – we end up pulling crews from three, four or five stations. It takes a lot of people to get a handle on them.”
During the grassfire near Ghost Lake, RVC issued its first fire ban of 2021. The County had previously implemented a fire advisory on March 24, which was lifted the following day after a night of precipitation.
A fire advisory, according to Smith, means certain burning – such as family fire pits and campfires – is still allowed, while other types of burning are not.
As for a fire ban, Smith said that is an upgraded status from an advisory and includes virtually all types of burning.
“It just means, in our opinion given the environmental conditions out there and our own experience, we don’t want to see people starting fires,” he said. “There’s too much potential [for fires to spread], so you’re not allowed to have a fire at all.”
In the event a fire ban or advisory is issued, Smith said RVC will issue a safe and sound message, which people can sign up to receive notifications for on Rockyview.ca. He said the County’s website also advertises when an advisory or ban is in effect via a highlighted banner at the top of the home page.
If people ignore fire advisories, bans, or the need for a burning permit, Smith said they’re assuming all liability and risking a fine.
“If you call to get your fire permit, the fire crews that issue the permits will tell you if there’s a ban or not a ban, or an advisory or not an advisory,” he said. “If a ban or advisory is in place, they will not issue you a permit.”
For details on specific fire restrictions during an advisory, visit the County's Fire Bans and Advisories webpage