Abandoned campfire caused fire that grew out-of-control north of Canmore, officials say

Investigators have determined that an abandoned campfire caused the Devil’s Head wildfire north of Canmore that grew out of control earlier this month.

Agriculture and forestry wildfire investigators are now working with the RCMP to identify and speak to hikers and other individuals who were in the area between Aug. 30 and Sept. 4, the government said in a Monday press release.

“We can pinpoint a location as to where the fire started. We do know it was an abandoned campfire,” Melissa Story, a provincial information officer with Alberta Wildfire, told CBC News.

“So we are looking for help from the public … for anyone’s assistance who was in that area.”

According to Devin Dreeshen, the minister of agriculture and forestry, the vast majority of Alberta’s wildfires are the result of human error.

“There’s no excuse for leaving a campfire unattended. Before you leave, ensure it’s completely extinguished: soak it, stir it and soak it again,” Dreeshen was quoted as saying in the release.

“Last year, 71 per cent of wildfires were caused by humans and were entirely preventable. We must do better.”

Fire grew to 676 hectares in three days

After it was discovered on Sept. 4, a team of four air tankers, two helicopters and 14 wildland firefighters were dispatched to fight the blaze, which was in the forest reserve near the base of Blackrock Mountain, at the west end of Township Road 270.

A photo taken Sept. 11 captures lingering smoke during a hazy sunset at Devil’s Head mountain. (Robson Fletcher/CBC News)

The fire grew from 10 to 676 hectares in about three days. Wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather told the Calgary Eyeopener on Sept. 7 that it was the biggest the province has seen all year.

“This fire is probably the same size of every other fire combined for the entire year,” Fairweather said.

How to properly extinguish a campfire

Fines for failing to extinguish a campfire increased in 2019, and can range from $600 to $840.

The current fine for an abandoned campfire is $600, though the government said in the release that anyone found responsible for starting a wildfire may have to go to court to face additional charges and fines.

Anyone who may have information in this or other cases can call the toll-free tip line number is 833-999-3473.

The province included tips on how to properly extinguish a campfire in the release:

  • Let the fire burn down before you plan to extinguish it.
  • Spread the embers within the fire pit, then add water or loose dirt and stir.
  • Expose any materials still burning, then add more water and stir again until you can no longer see smoke or steam.
  • Repeat until your campfire is cool to the touch. You should not be able to feel any heat from the ashes.
  • Do not bury your campfire, as the embers may continue to smoulder and can re-emerge as a wildfire.

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