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County ramps up fire bans

Nearly all burning is being prohibited in Westlock County under a fire advisory issued last Friday. Only supervised campfires will be allowed — residents may not use burn barrels or do any other permit burning, regional fire chief John Biro said.

Nearly all burning is being prohibited in Westlock County under a fire advisory issued last Friday.

Only supervised campfires will be allowed — residents may not use burn barrels or do any other permit burning, regional fire chief John Biro said. The move comes following what has been a busy week and season for county fire crews, with on-farm burning playing a major role.

“We’re just trying to be proactive. We’ve had two burning barrel fires this year already,” he said. “If we can eliminate some of those problems, it’s better for everybody.”

In the last week alone there were: several brush fires, an excavator fire, a structure fire and some other fires threatening structures in the county.

“We had one where a resident was burning straw that caught in his pasture,” he said. “Another one was basically an excavator doing work in a pasture that caught fire.”

It all came to a head last Thursday, when county fire crews were kept busy for the better part of a day on four different calls.

The first call came in around 1:30 p.m. in the county east of Clyde. A fire had broken out, threatening some bales and an adjacent structure — as well as surrounding trees.

“We ended up bringing in some equipment as well to assist us,” he said. “We basically used a track hoe to dig out some piles that were burning still.”

Crews also had to extinguish the fire in the bales, which they would normally allow to just burn down, because of the proximity to structures on the property.

While Westlock Rural and Clyde firefighters were on that scene, a call came in from a fire tower in the northern part of the county, so the Jarvie and Fawcett fire departments were dispatched, although they found nothing at the reported scene and stood down.

Shortly after that, the county got a call for mutual aid from the Flatbush department, which was fighting a fire just north of the Westlock County line, where a resident had a pasture burning and was evacuating the property.

“Flatbush was responding to that fire, and they thought if we had a department available we could assist them,” Biro said.

Finally, just before midnight, a call came in for a structure and vehicle on fire south of Vimy — 18 firefighters from the Westlock Rural and Clyde departments responded to that incident, and didn’t finish up until early Friday morning.

“We were basically back in service — back in our beds — by about four in the morning,” Biro said.

He said the county is very fortunate to have so many departments able to cover off each others’ areas in cases where multiple calls come in at once, as happened last Thursday.

The county can also rely on the mutual aid agreements it has in place with departments in neighbouring municipalities, including the Town of Westlock, but it’s a frightening prospect to get to that point nonetheless.

“Typically if it gets to that point, they’re all in the same predicament too,” he said. “Yesterday (Thursday) there were fires popping up all over the place and we were just lucky we were able to send a department.”

The fire advisory will stay in place until further notice, strictly limiting all burning in the county. For the most up-to-date information about fire bans in the county, visit the county website or go to www.albertafirebans.ca.