ELKWATER, AB – As the fires rage in British Columbia, work is being done here in Alberta to prevent a similar disaster.
Straddling the border with Saskatchewan, Cypress Hills Provincial Park is one are under constant watch.
The park has counted itself lucky over the last 83 years, as no major fires have affected the area since a blaze broke out in the Willow Creek region in 1934.
Still, that hasn’t calmed fears locally of a large-scale fire down the road.
A report presented to Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation in 2009 stated that the age of vegetation and the hot and dry weather creates ‘potential for a catastrophic wildfire.’
The report also said extreme fire conditions could burn the entire park in as little as 11 hours.
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes said residents are concerned their homes could be at risk.
“With all the dead trees laying around, all the free fall and all the grass there, I’m told that the houses could go very, very quickly,” said Barnes. “I’m told that the whole park could go in just a matter of a few hours. As we’ve seen unfortunately in Fort McMurray and B.C., fire is a strong, ravaging beast.”
Some controlled burns of aging areas have been completed over the years, allowing vegetation to grow back stronger years down the road.
The provincial government also passed a number of regulations in March as a response to last year’s Fort McMurray blaze.
These regulations include new penalties for leaving campfires unattended, restricting use of fireworks, and improving fire disposal methods.
Barnes added there are plenty of ways to make sure the park remains fire safe.
“We need to do some selective cutting of the trees,” he said. “There’s a great opportunity there, to make sure that we put in proper fire guards and that kind of thing. I do know that in a lot of the cabin owners, though the assistance of the Park, a lot have been making their cabins fire safe.”
To prevent the possibility of a wildfire spreading, Barnes said he would like to see ranchers given more authority to allow cattle to graze more often, cutting down on the amount of grassland.
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