Spring Forward, Fire Back: Preventing Holdover Fires in the County of Grande Prairie 

As the snow begins to melt and the first signs of spring emerge in the Grande Prairie area, the transition from winter to the warmer months brings a renewed focus on fire safety and management. Throughout the winter, many of our local farmers engage in what's known as winter burning – a critical practice for clearing areas of brush, trees of stubble, crop residue and other agricultural waste. Although this method has been recognized for generations as a suitable method to dispose of wood and organic waste, it does have an inherent risk 

Understanding Holdover Fires and the Threat they Pose 

As essential as these burns are, they introduce the risk of holdover fires – fires that smoulder under the snow and emerge as a potential threat when conditions dry out in spring. Covered by snow, holdover fires can smoulder undetected for weeks or even months. When the snow melts, and the weather warms up, these hidden embers can find fresh fuel in the dry grass and debris of spring. These latent fires can ignite larger, uncontrolled wildfires, posing significant risks to property, wildlife, and the safety of our community.  

“Last year, more than 60% of the grass fires we attended were holdover fires,” says Fire Chief Trevor Grant. “And, excluding the Dunes West fire which was caused by lightening, they were the biggest fires we went to. Usually, a high wind day causes sparks and sends them into the dry grass – and they take right off.” 

Did you know you can be charged bylaw rates for the cost of firefighting a holdover fire? A single air tanker water tank drop costs $30,000.  

 How You Can Help Manage the Risk 

  • Monitor Burn Sites: After conducting a winter burn, regularly monitor the site for signs of smouldering or holdover fires. This includes checking for smoke, heat pockets, or any unusual activity at the burn site, especially as the snow melts and the weather warms up. Check that piles are out by putting a steel rod or pry bar down into the pile – if it’s hot, the pile is still burning inside or underground. Stirring the burn pile helps ensure it’s completely extinguished. 

  • Maintain a Buffer Zone: Create and maintain a buffer zone around the burned area. This zone should be free of flammable materials and vegetation that could catch fire easily. By having a clear area, you can prevent a holdover fire from spreading to adjacent fields or forests. 

  • Employ Fire Suppression Tools: Keep fire suppression tools and equipment, such as water tanks, hoses, and extinguishers, readily available and in good working condition. Quick access to these tools can make a significant difference in containing a fire before it escalates. 

  • Follow Up with Tillage: Consider tilling the burned area. Tilling can help extinguish any remaining embers by burying them under the soil, reducing the oxygen supply needed for combustion. 

  • Collaborate with Family and Neighbours: Work together with neighbouring farms and properties to monitor and manage fire risks. Sharing information about planned burns and potential holdover fires can help create a community-wide awareness and response plan. 

  • Report and Communicate: If a holdover fire is detected, report it. Providing timely and accurate information can help mobilize resources to address the fire effectively. 

Don't Burn on Your Property?

You can still help! Report smouldering fires: if you see areas where smoke or heat is coming from the ground, especially in recently burned fields, report them immediately by calling 911. Early detection of holdover fires can significantly reduce the risk of them turning into larger wildfires.

“People get used to seeing smoke and burn piles in winter because there are no permits required. But as the weather warms up and grass dries, there is more risk of a wildfire,” says Chief Grant. “Don’t worry about calling in something that might not be an event. We’d rather take a look before it gets bigger.” 

The Importance of Fire Permits 

One of the most effective ways to manage fire risk is through the responsible use of our free fire permits. With the Alberta government declaring an early start to the 2024 fire season on February 20th, fire permits for planned burnis a critical step in community safety.  

 Here's why: 

Monitoring: Fire permits allow local fire departments to monitor where and when burns are happening, ensuring they can respond quickly if a fire gets out of control. 

  • Guidance: When you apply for a fire permit, you'll receive guidance on how to conduct your burn safely, minimizing the risk of it becoming a holdover fire. 

  • Protection: In the event of a wildfire, knowing where legal burns are occurring helps firefighters prioritize their responses and protect our community more effectively. 

  • Resourcing: We can avoid dedicating emergency services to a documented, controlled burn if we receive a call from a neighbour.  

  • Risk Management: We’ll talk about the wind risk – we have a 12 km/hour wind restriction. Because any more wind than that can shift the dynamic of what you’re burning, throwing embers past where you’re prepared to manage that fire. 

When you need a fire permit: 

  • Brush pile 

  • Burn barrel 

  • Construction clean up 

  • Field, burn bales, crops or straw 

  • Flaring 

  • Industrial fires 

  • Mountain Pine Beetle trees 

  • New recreational fire pit  

  • Scrap wood 

  • Windrows 

  • Yard clean up - deadfall branches 

How to Request a Fire Permit 

Requesting a fire permit in Grande Prairie is a straightforward process: 

  1. Visit the County website and check for any active fire restrictions, which do not allow for any new permits to be issued until the restriction has lifted.
  2. Use the map to check your burn areas and what time of year you require a fire permit.
  3. Depending on your burn area, you’ll either contact Alberta Agriculture and Forestry for a fire permit or use the online form to apply. Provide details about the location of your burn, and the material you plan to burn. 
  4. Once you receive your permit, make sure to follow all the guidelines and conditions outlined to conduct your burn safely and legally.


By becoming vigilant about the risks of holdover fires, and adhering to safe burning practices, we can protect our community, our properties, and our natural environment from the threat of wildfires. Let's work together to ensure a safe and enjoyable spring for everyone in our community.