STOP, DROP AND ROLL
IN THE WAKE OF FORT McMURRAY DISASTER, WILDFIRE PREPAREDNESS ON FARMS IS A MUST
BY GRIFFIN ELLIOT
April showers—or lack thereof—brought May wildfires instead of flowers this year to the residents of Fort McMurray. The tragic natural disaster burned through almost 1.5 million acres of land, according to a report by the provincial government, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and triggering the largest fire evacuation in the province’s history.
Doug Forge, an emergency management officer with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, said that wildfire threats to Alberta farms and ranches are, thankfully, not common.
“The most frequent threat is in the spring before green-up and in the fall when we’ve got a lot of dried vegetation on the ground, but we don’t hear that often of actual threats to farms and ranches,” Forge said. “This spring was a little unusual because we were under almost drought conditions, very dry throughout the forest protection area, so that was an extra hazard.”
However, as outlined by the province, farmers and ranchers should have an emergency action plan in place.
“Option one is decide whether you can shelter in place,” Forge said, “and if you figure you can, have that mapped out. Second option would be to have an evacuation plan where you’re actually going to evacuate your animals and your family and leave the acreage or farm. And the last resort, if you’ve got one of those [wildfires] that’s really fast-moving and comes upon you unexpectedly and you haven’t had time to evacuate the animals, just free the animals and let them fend for themselves.”
He added that you should have a “72-hour kit” ready for grab-and-go purposes to keep your family comfortable for a few days if necessary. And, of course, prioritize family before livestock.
“There’s a really good program out here run through our forestry division called FireSmart,” Forge said. “It covers all sorts of things about ‘FireSmarting’ your home and acreage.
“They have good tips on dry grass, grain fields, hay fields, pasture lands. They also talk about ditches, the threats posed by feed storage, and about granaries, barns and unused land.”
Contact your local fire department to get more material on FireSmart and to have your property assessed.