On February 20th, the Alberta Government announced that the 2024 wildfire season has already begun.

While the 2023 wildfire season only ended last November, due to higher-than-normal temperatures and below than average precipitation in various parts of the province, we are at a heightened risk of wildfires.

Hence, the early start to the wildfire season.

"As of today, a permit is required for any burning planned in a Forest Protection area," explained Minister of Forestry and Parks Todd Loewen at a media conference on Feb 20th. "This will allow Alberta's government to better manage wildfire risks and increase the level of protection in these areas, which will reduce the likelihood of new human-caused wildfires."

Human caused wildfires made up 60 per cent of the wildfires last season in Alberta.

To help combat wildfires, the Forestry and Parks department has requested funding for an additional 100 firefighters as part of the 2024 budget.

Currently, there will be close to 900 firefighting personnel ready to go for April 15th, but if the budget gets approved, close to 1000 firefighters should be ready to work come May 15th.

If approved, that will result in five-additional 20-person crews and will be a critical addition to the Alberta Wildfire team.

Preparations for the 2024 Wildfire season have been under way for several months already.

"Alberta's government has also expanded opportunities for Albertans to support wildfire operations near their communities," says Loewen. "Any Albertan with relevant training, expertise, or heavy equipment, is encouraged to contact their local Forest area office to learn more about how they can support wildfire efforts this season."

To help combat wildfires, they will use enhanced nighttime firefighting tactics, including using night-vision equipped helicopters and drones, as well as nighttime heli-tanking.

They will also ensure the availability of waterbombers, aircrafts, and heavy equipment.

Loewen is encouraging Albertans to familiarize themselves with FireSmart principles and prepare their homes and property accordingly.

Last December, the Community Fireguard Program came into place, allowing municipalities to access financial assistance to help construct fireguards in high-risk communities, and Loewen is encouraging communities to access that program.

"I also want to remind Albertans that wildfire prevention is a shared responsibility, and we must work together to keep Alberta safe from the impacts of wildfire," says Loewen.

With all of this, it's best to keep up to date on fire bans and restrictions in their area to reduce the spread of wildfires.

While wildfires are a natural feature in Alberta, Loewen is asking all Albertans to do their part to keep Alberta safe.

For more information on how to lower the risk of spreading a wildfire, head over to the FireSmart website.