Grass fires keep fire department busy

Matt Gardner
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Anecdotal evidence suggests the Prince Albert Fire Department is seeing plenty of action as grass fire season gets underway.

A Prince Albert Fire Department firefighter hoses down part of a grass fire behind SIAST in April 2013.

Despite a wet April that saw higher-than-normal levels of precipitation, deputy chief Corey Rodgers indicated that conditions remain ripe for grass fires.

“In comparison to last year, without looking at the stats, I would say that we’re probably getting a little busier than last year,” Rodgers said.

“Last year we seemed to have a lot more snow on the ground and it seemed to have lasted a little longer. But I’d have to look at the stats to be sure.”

Wet conditions can slow the progress of grass fires, but with Prince Albert now largely snow-free, the number of calls related to grass fires is beginning to pick up.

The fire hall tends to start receiving such calls in the early afternoon. Any place with dry grass may be vulnerable to a grass fire, with common examples including along the railroad tracks, along the riverbank and in remote areas where sewage is treated.

In many cases, firefighters responding to grass fires will initiate a controlled burn of the area to lower the chances of another fire starting there.

“What happens is we’ll get a call to a grass fire and if there’s another 20 to 50 feet left that’s going to burn anyways … we’ll finish it off and just control it, rather than just put it out and then right after get called back there later,” Rodgers said.

The fire department recently updated its list of historical controlled burn areas, and firefighters creating controlled burns will likely become a more common sight in the weeks ahead.

Though the increasing prevalence of bonfires as summer approaches can create fire hazards, Rodgers noted that bonfires tend to be relatively few and far between at this time of year.

“We don’t see too many bonfires,” he said. “You might get the odd call out into the RM of Prince Albert … where they might be doing some burning and it gets away on them. But for the most part those things are controlled.

In comparison to last year, without looking at the stats, I would say that we’re probably getting a little busier. Corey Rodgers

“It just comes down to the weather of the day, if it’s windy or not … People might be under a deadline to get something burnt off, and if it’s windy, it’s not a good day to move forward with that burn. So sometimes they get away.”

One of the most common causes of grass fires, Rodgers said, was children playing with matches -- a scenario that controlled burns may help to reduce.

“They want to see the trucks come and show up,” the deputy chief noted. “So if we can remove the fuel, once it’s burnt, it’s done. We won’t be back to that area.”

Rodgers anticipated that the number of calls related to grass fires would continue to increase over the next few weeks.

Just as the likelihood of grass fires is lower on cold and wet days, climbing temperatures in dry conditions can significantly raise the risk until later in the season.

“Once we get into the summertime and everything’s greening up, there’s virtually no grass fires until the fall … when things start drying up and we get the odd call again,” Rodgers said.

In the meantime, he advised parents to stay aware of what their children are doing and keep them away from matches.

“When they’re out playing with their friends, they get curious, and if they have some matches or something, that’s usually how these things are started,” he said. “There might be other factors that come into play, but for the most part, there’s lots of kids in the area and we don’t have the resources to pinpoint who did it.

“Sometimes their friends will tell on them and let us know, and then we can deal with it from there. But for the most part we just go put the fire out or control burn it a little bit more just to clear up some of the fuel, and then we come back to the hall and service the equipment.”

Organizations: Prince Albert

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