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Fire permit season begins March 1

Fire permits are required within the MD of Bonnyville during wildfire season, which goes from March 1 to Oct. 31.
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Fire permits are required within the MD of Bonnyville from March 1 to Oct. 31. File photo.

BONNYVILLE – Wildfire season is quickly approaching and fire permits are required during this time for residents in the MD of Bonnyville who want to do a scheduled burn.  

March 1 marks the start of wildfire season in Alberta and it doesn’t end until Oct. 31. As of that date, a permit is needed for all planned fires located with the MD of Bonnyville and the Forest Protection Area, which goes just north of Cold Lake and covers a part of the MD.   

“Fire permit season is where you can do your rural burning to get your land cleaned up and ready for the season,” detailed Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) fire chief Jay Melvin.  

Fire guardians are responsible for going out and helping homeowners ensure the planned burn can be done so safely and within the time allotted in the fire permit.  

“We have four fire guardians that go out and issue permits so that the landowners can burn safely within the regulations and not cause any hazards or cause wildfires to happen, which would definitely impact the municipality as a whole,” Melvin said, adding he would encourage burnings to get done sooner rather than later.  

“Once March 1 comes, if you haven’t done your winter burning . . . get it done before it starts to dry out. Everybody knows it, and around that May timeframe, a fire ban normally happens and then you’ve moved a majority of your burning until after the green-up, so it could be into June or later. When March 1 comes, if you haven’t already done your burning, you will need permits even though there’s snow on the ground. You’re required to have a permit to burn, but now is the time to do it when there’s moisture on the ground to get your winter burning done.”  

Once they receive their permit, a resident will register the burn with the Bonnyville 911 centre and it will be recorded onto a map dispatchers can refer to if they receive a call about smoke in certain areas.  

“We do have people driving by where they notice smoke or fire and the 911 call taker can now look at the map and go ‘yes, we have a registered burn there,’ and this prevents a lot of unnecessary services dispatching,” Melvin noted. “Sending members out to a burn is something that we don’t want to do. It did happen in the past, but it’s something that we try to prevent.”   

A regular year sees the fire guardians hand out between 350 and 400 permits as landowners are required to get a new one each time they need a scheduled burn.   

According to Melvin, wildfires aren’t a huge issue within the area and the last major one was in 2019.

“We get some wildland fires that are in the ditches for some reason along highways, whether that’s accidental, and we do get some just from quadding that happens out there. Those are predominantly what we see around in our area here,” Melvin explained. “Those are the common ones we see and the accidental ones where somebody had a permit to burn, the wind picked up, it got away from them, and now it’s turned into something else."

Looking ahead, it's hard to predict what the 2021 will bring.

"Last year was relatively quiet. We’re hoping this year will be the same, but it depends on the restrictions and if people go out camping. We’ll see what happens, but everything will depend on how dry it gets in May, and how the green-up will come to eliminate some of those fields that are normally the triggers for wildland fires.”  

Contact information for the fire guardians can be found online at brfa.ca/fire-permits.   

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle