Visible smoke above West Trail, Violin Lake and across the river from Rivervale prompted calls to the local fire department this week.
But no worries, the smoke was coming from controlled slash pile burning as ATCO Wood Products carried out its annual fire hazard abatement.
The proper timing of the burn is critical, and dependent upon the daily ventilation forecast. (The ventilation index is a numerical value related to atmospheric potential in dispersing airborne pollutants, such as smoke from a prescribed fire).
That means alerting the public in advance isn’t an option because the company can’t commit to burning in a specific area on a certain day, explains ATCO Silviculture Supervisor Mark MacAulay.
“I do phone the Southeast Fire Centre and the local fire departments when we are burning in an area where it is visible to the public,” he said. “Due to the fact that we can’t get the venting forecast for the day until 7:30 a.m…the notification given to them is on the morning they are occurring.”
Slash piles are burned each fall in areas that timber was harvested within the last year.
“They are put into large piles so they are not covering the cutblock, as the cutblock needs to be planted with seedlings,” McAulay clarified. “The piles are required to be burned by law, as they are a fire hazard.”
Before that can happen, moisture content of the surrounding area must be high enough to ensure fires won’t spread, the venting index must be “good,” and wind must be low or blowing in a direction that avoids smoking out communities.
“Burning them at the proper time eliminates the fire hazard,” MacAulay added. “In an example of the hazard, we have had several piles that were lit by careless people this year.”
Hunters had a campfire too close to the pile in one circumstance. The others may have started from a carelessly tossed cigarette or from an ATV travelling through nearby long grass in dry, hot conditions.
“These fires were started when conditions were not appropriate, and resulted in unplanned broadcast burns on the cutblocks (burning newly planted seedlings),” said MacAulay. “Which then carried into nearby standing timber.”
The remote fires were extinguished by ATCO employees and initial attack crews.