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Wet weather reduces fire hazard, but COVID precautions keep ban in place

Fire bans continue, despite rains, as COVID concerns continue

The recent rains that have dampened much of the Lakeland are a gift from above for regional firefighting officials.

"The rain has been a godsend ….it has helped our area in the fact that things are starting to green up – this reduces the hazard level for wildfire occurrence," said Lac La Biche County's manager of Protective Services and regional fire chief John Kokotilo.  

Despite almost two straight days of precipitation in the Lac La Biche area, provincial forestry officials have maintained a fire ban in the region's Fire Protection Area, restricting all outdoor fires, including campsite and backyard fire pits. Most municipalities have mirrored the fire bans in municipal areas outside the provincial protection area.

The result has been more than a month of fire restrictions. 

On Friday morning, Alberta Wildfire information officer Leslie Lozinski said there had been "no change" to the status of the ban.

And while many residents were hoping that a campfire or backyard hotdog roast would be a welcome break to the stay-at-home protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the pandemic that is mostly responsible for the ban remaining in place.

"Reducing human-caused wildfires helps keep our firefighting resources focused where they are most needed, especially when our firefighting resources may be challenged due to the COVID-19 pandemic," noted Lozinski. 

Anyone found to be non-compliant with the fire ban could be fined $600. 

Kokotilo said that within the municipality, the fire ban remains in place for similar health and safety precautions of municipal fire department staff.

"We need to preserve those resources and make sure they’re healthy and available for emergency situations when required," he told the POST, adding that municipal and provincial restrictions have been aligned for several years. "Alberta Agriculture & Forestry has not lifted the fire ban in the Forest Protection Area, the area where fire control measures are decided by the Government of Alberta, and because it covers more than half of Lac La Biche County, we  always attempt to follow the Province’s regulations to avoid confusion. If we lifted the ban or changed the regulations in the area that we control, there would be situations where neighbouring properties would have to follow different rules."

With more wet weather predicted in the coming forecast, Kokotilo, like many of the region's residents, hopes to see a little break in the fire ban. 

"Hopefully this will ease the restrictions that have been imposed by the Province," he said.

Off-road vehicle restrictions eased

There are still off-highway vehicle restrictions for some areas of the region's Fire Protection Area. In the Lac La Biche region, OHV bans are in place north of the Janvier area towards Fort McMurray. The rest of the Lac La Biche Forest area has no OHV restrictions currently in place.

The Alberta Wildfire website has a current fire hazard for the region as LOW.

Lozinski says anyone spotting a wildfire can call 310-FIRE. Fires in the municipality can be reported through 911.