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Wet, cooler weather brings increased lightning risk, Alberta wildfire officials caution

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The number of lightning-caused wildfire starts in Alberta is rising.

It rose from one last week to six as of Thursday.

Officials, in a provincial wildfire update in Edmonton in the morning, pointed to the change to encourage Albertans to follow fire restrictions and bans so as to ensure firefighting resources are free to tackle harder-to-access and unpreventable wildfires sparked by lightning.

"We're shifting from the time of year where we'll see almost all of our fires caused by human activity, to a time where we'll see more lightning fires caused," Alberta Wildfire's information unit manager Christie Tucker said.

"As we've seen a turn in the weather, we have what people in wildfire call 'June monsoon season' so it's when we tend to get a bit more rain and we tend to see more lightning-caused fires here."

Only one of 26 wildfires currently burning in Alberta's protected forests is classified as out of control: a four-hectare blaze west of Calgary that was first detected early Thursday morning. Its cause is still being investigated. Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen said communities in the Ghost River area may see smoke from the blaze, but assured them that firefighters and aircraft have been assigned.

The total number of wildfires is down four from Wednesday. Two are classified as "being held;" the rest are under control.

The number of hectares burned this year – 28,000, most of which was burned southwest of Fort McMurray by a single wildfire – is a fraction of the 1.3 million hectares that had been burned by this time in 2023.

Loewen attributed the difference to not only helpful weather, but starting the official wildfire season and crew preparation earlier, hiring more crews, and investing in more air and night resources.

Alberta is also still helping the Northwest Territories to reign in an out-of-control 30,000-hectare wildfire that started in the territory in 2023 and spread into Alberta. 

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