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Rain welcome, but must continue, says regional fire chief

More rain needed

LAC LA BICHE - While two days of rainfall across the region was a welcome relief to firefighters bracing for a busy wildfire season, more rain, more often must fall to make a real difference, says John Kokotilo, the regional fire chief for Lac La Biche County.  

“This has got to continue…this can’t be you know like if we have this going on right now and then next week, it gets up to 17 to 20 degrees with winds…that moisture is quickly gone,” he told Lakeland This Week. 

Kokotilo said although local fire officials are happy with the rain, the region needed the amount of precipitation that fell in the southern portion of the province, which was substantially more than what came to the north.  

Despite this wet weather to start the month of May, the local landscape, Kokotilo said, hasn’t greened up enough, and there is still a considerable amount of dry grass and trees. He said that with a return of hot and windy conditions, the region could find itself back in a situation like before with a high fire hazard rating in a short period of time.   

Furthermore, precipitation that has fallen over the past couple of weeks has had little impact on the ground, which the regional fire chief says has no moisture due to the lack of snow during the winter months. Kokotilo recently went into a field with a shovel and dug down into the ground, which he says is completely dry.  

“It only takes a couple of days, and all of the moisture is gone…we had no snow, so we have no moisture,” he said. “So, this moisture that we’ve gotten right now has just seeped in a little bit and that’s it…it can be dried up, evaporate very quickly.” 

The lack of a significant snow-base from this past winter is also evident in local ponds now that the winter ice has melted. Many water sources have shrunk or dried up completely, the fire chief said, restricting sources that firefighters could utilize if required. 

At present, Lac La Biche County remains under a fire restriction. This was put in place by the provincial Department of Forestry and Parks, which issued a restriction for the entire northern section of Alberta. Under this restriction, Kokotilo explained, safe campfires and propane BBQs are allowed, but open burning such as agricultural or grass burning remains prohibited.  

Some relief from April 

The rainfall to start May helped to ease some of the stresses of the municipal fire department after a month of unprecedented responses. April was an extremely busy month for Lac La Biche County Fire Rescue members, said Kokotilo.  

“We had over 100 apparatus responses, so we were really hopping,” he said, explaining that in one 72-hour period, municipal fire crews responded to eight separate fire calls for service. 

The fire chief said that despite a little rest brought on by the few days of rain, unless there is more moisture, he remains concerned. 

“I don’t project that we’re out of the woods…” he said. 

To help reduce the risks of fires, municipal staff and members of the Lac La Biche County Fire Rescue Services have been in area neighbourhoods speaking to homeowners about fire safety. The municipality continues to be one of the province’s leaders in the FireSmart program, and educational tool that offers awareness and resources to residents about keeping their property fire safe. 

Kokotilo says more information about the FireSmart program can be found on the municipality’s website. 

Chris McGarry

About the Author: Chris McGarry

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