02/26/2015 01:17 EST | Updated 04/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Alberta says financial crunch not affecting preparations for wildfire season

EDMONTON - Alberta says its financial crunch is not affecting preparations for the wildfire season, which starts Sunday.

Wildfire officer Geoffrey Driscoll said Alberta Environment is positioning the same number of firefighters, forest watchers and equipment as last year.

"We are going to continue to operate the way that we are right now with the firefighters that we need," Driscoll said Thursday. "We will get more if we need more."

The province has been getting ready early for wildfires since the May 2011 blaze that destroyed about a 1/3 of the town of Slave Lake.

The plan is to have 500 firefighters on duty during the peak of the season, and to quickly hire up to 1,500 more if needed.

If the fires get really serious, the province can call in crews and equipment from other jurisdictions across North America.

Money to pay for actually fighting wildfires would come from an Alberta government emergency fund.

Driscoll said how quickly the snow melts in the coming weeks will help determine the risk of wildfires.

He said a slow melt is preferred, as it will allow more moisture to soak into the ground that would allow the forest to green up faster.

Driscoll said it is too early to predict which parts of Alberta will be at risk of wildfires this season.

Currently the region north of Slave Lake has received about half of its normal winter snowfall, while the area around Grande Prairie has received much more snow than normal.

Driscoll said Alberta's wildfire plan is based on quickly shifting crews, equipment and aircraft to trouble spots.

Last season crews responded to more than 1,400 wildfires in the forest zone that burned up about 230 square kilometres of timber, he said. More than 60 per cent of these fires were caused by people.

Starting Sunday, fire permits are required in Alberta's forested areas for any type of burning other than camp fires.