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Check winter burn sites

Smoldering brush piles can become a source of wildfires

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County employee Trent Keller checks a brush pile for hot spots using an infrared camera.

Anyone who has conducted open burning during the winter is reminded to check their burn sites to ensure they have been completely extinguished. Athabasca County staff as part of their preparation for spring conduct checks of all winter burn sites. If you had a winter burn site assist County staff and check them for hot spots to ensure they are safe.

County staff employ the use of infrared cameras and steel probes to get to the centre of burn piles to determine if they are hot. If there is a concern the property owner/permit holder is made aware of the concern and how to remedy it.

“Winter burn sites and brush piles can produce embers that can travel in the wind and eventually become the source of a wildfire,” says Ron Jackson, director of agriculture and emergency services. “Taking a bit of time to check your burn sites now can prevent a wildfire later this spring when conditions usually get tinder dry.”

He adds, for a third year in a row the spring fire hazard is expected to be high. A quick spring melt has resulted in much of the moisture running off this year. Depending on the amount of spring rain, conditions could become dry very quickly.

Reduce the risks. If your burn site is not completely extinguished, and your permit has expired, you are in violation of the Forest and Prairie Protection Act and subject to a fine. In addition, you are responsible for all costs to extinguish a fire which starts on your land.


The best time to check your brush piles is on a cold day with no wind:

  • when you probe the pile with a metal rod the temperature of the rod increases;
  • you can see or smell smoke coming from the brush pile;
  • white ash is evident on the surface of the winter burn pile; and,
  • hot embers exist inside, or on top of, the burn site.


Consult your fire permit for specifics on how your brush pile is to be managed:

  • spread the debris from the fire over the ground;
  • if embers are still present from a recent burn consider spraying water on the debris;
  • continue to monitor the debris until there is no heat found; and,
  • call Athabasca County if you need suggestions for making your winter burn site safe.

For more information about winter burn sites, and reducing the fire risk from them, contact the Athabasca County Administration office:

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