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County straps in for the intensity of fall fire season

Posted on October 11, 2023 by Sunny South News

By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News

Despite cooler temperatures, the most intense period of the fire season has just begun.

Manager of Fire Services at Lethbridge County, Byron Fraser said the peak intensity of a region’s fire season depends greatly on the landscape, and although the temperatures have dropped off in recent weeks, autumn is the most active time for fires.

Despite the hot, dry spring, Fraser said the anticipation of autumn can bring with it a feeling of uneasiness for departments in the region.

“It concerns us, as (it’s) usually created a crazy year of fires, but truthfully we are just getting to our most serious and common time for wildland fires. All the crops are either off or fully cured, the grasses in the pastures, coulees, and landscape are at the longest they will get and fully cured,” he said, noting this differs from certain mountainous regions which often experience their major fire season earlier in the summer.

“We are just getting into our (peak season) and depending on snow could (continue on) into deep winter.”

While extended hot and dry conditions have a direct impact on the landscape, prolonged heat, coupled with insufficient rainfall also leads to a more expedited depletion of water storage levels in nearby reservoirs.

“Extremely low” water levels at Keho Lake and other water sources this summer created additional challenges for fire services. Lower reservoir levels present challenges to crews who must in turn find a ways to get close enough to access the water. If water sources are too low for crews to easily access with hoses from their trucks or portable pumps, steps are taken to acquire water elsewhere.

“A couple times this year, had to truck water from farther away which takes more resources and takes more time for water to get to site possibly causing delay in suppression,” he said, adding, “in the rural setting the rural water sources are very important and when they are not at a level that is accessible for us we end up having to compromise.”

Fraser explained the County’s Fire Services department has shifted their approach in recent years, and have seen success as a result of front-loading resources when responding to a fire.

“We have set out appropriate response plans that have the mindset of hitting it hard and hitting it fast,” Fraser said, noting this approach requires a concertedly heavy use of resources right at the beginning of the fire, with the hopes of mitigating property damage versus a more moderate use of resources over a longer time.

This strategy has proven to have been successful in a number of cases this year among both structure and grass fires.

“We are calling an ‘all-out’ in less time than we were before. This is because we are getting lots of resources on the fire quicker which in turn saves property burned and damage to buildings on fire. This mindset has taken structure fire times, from arrival to all out and returning to station in some cases by half the scene time. An example was a structure fire that I believe would have normally been a 10 to 12 hour fire was only a 3.5 hour fire. With the hot year we also found that with this mindset we have enough firefighters on scene to prevent exhaustion and injury.”

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