Even on the mostly prairie landscape of central Alberta, wildland fires still pose a serious threat to farms.
Brad Andres, director of Emergency Management Services of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry explained staying safe is all about understanding the risks involved.
“For farmers, producers in the province’s forested areas, they know what needs to be done to best protect their homes and property,” Andres stated in a recent interview.
“For the rest, sometimes farmers need to be reminded not to do things that might compound the risk in given situations and should take extra precautions when they need to do specific work.”
He mentioned the huge wind-driven grass fires four years ago in southern Alberta as one example of a wildland fire hitting prairie farmland.
“Historically, the spring and harvest until the end of the season see the driest conditions leaving fuel that easily lights and a fire that can move quickly. Farmers need to identify the risks and be aware of their surroundings,” Andres stated.
“Due to farm operations management changing over the years, more straw and stubble are being left in the fields where in the past plowing under fields used to create a natural fire break. And though heavy dew and rain can help keep down the risk, farmers need to be aware of the conditions and take precautions.”
That also includes ensuring their equipment is properly maintained and working as it should as well as consider the safe storage of their farm chemicals.
Another key is to have a plan in place, not only to protect the property from fire, but what may need to be done with any animals.
“Having a plan is key. To protect the home and buildings, slowing down the advance of any fire can be done as they do move fast along ground. Using portable industrial or a regular lawn sprinkler to wet the ground around the property will do the same thing as cutting a break with discers, cultivators or using a sprayer,” he said.
“With animals, the key is to make decisions early so you have enough time to do what needs to be done, be it moving or evacuating them or instituting protection measures. Also, the plan needs to fit the situation and be practical.”
Andres cited the more recent situations in Fort McMurray and near Valleyview last year where it took days to get animals out.
“Some operations won’t be able to move animals so there needs to be an alternative plan in place, and when all else fails it won’t be considered abandoning animals if there is a release and run in that situation,” Andres added.
There are a few tools to use to help stay on top of things, he explained. Signing up for Alberta Emergency Alert, on the computer or mobile phone, can keep people apprised of fires in their area while registering your farm on Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s premises identification program allows them to set protection priorities for properties in the event of an incident. Andres stated they are working on a direct notification system for those properties, but added farms need to register to make the program better.
Farmers are also encouraged to check out the FireSmart homeowner’s manual on www.wildfire.alberta.ca.
“While you will not likely be able to stop a full-blown wildfire on your own, there are a few steps that you can take to minimize the risk and reduce the potential damage to your family, property and animals.”