University of Alberta named as western hub of national forest fire project at Wildland Fire Canada conference; multi-partner effort will focus on science of forest fires to improve prediction models, management
October 4, 2012
– The University of Alberta will be the western hub of a national forest-fire science effort, in coordination with the federal and provincial governments.
An announcement this week at the Wildland Fire Canada conference in Kananaskis Country said the three partners will share resources and collaborate on initiatives.
"There is direct money and in-kind support for the program from the partners," said Mike Flannigan, director of the partnership, and a research scientist in wildland fire with the U of A and Natural Resources Canada. No budget details were available.
Each year in Canada, 8,000 forest fires destroy two-million hectares of forest - equal to about half the size of Nova Scotia. Last year's Slave Lake fire was the second most costly in Canadian history and caused $700 million in damages.
"We are going to see more fires in the future, and the fuels (landscapes) are changing," said Flannigan.
"I am down in K-Country now and there is a fire ban on. This area used to have lots of open grasslands, but now there is more standing timber because we have been so successful fighting fires."
As a result, Canadians are seeing more high-intensity crown (treetop) fires, which are extremely dangerous.
"The boreal forest in particular has survived and thrived in a regime of semi-regular stand replacing fires. We are looking at all aspects to really understand this," said Flannigan.
Among the 20 research projects underway, one is focused on lightning, which often starts fires in remote areas or in clusters. This is a challenge because there are only so many firefighters and water-bombers available.
"So we are working on prediction models to move crews into areas ahead of time."
Flannigan said another example is fine-tuning weather forecasts to estimate where a fire will be in one or two days. "If we have a fire in the backwoods and we have other fires to fight, can we let this one site while we work on the others, or is this one going to spread to Fort McMurray with a strong south wind that is forecast."
Existing prediction tools are good, Flannigan said, but more research adds to the knowledge base and improves the accuracy of the models.
Diana McQueen, minister of environment and sustainable resource development, said in a release that "Albertans and Canadians are fortunate to possess one of the best fire-management systems in the world, and this joining of academic and practical expertise will help us take that system to the next level of excellence."
Joe Oliver, minister of natural resources, said the federal government "is pleased to support this initiative that will build on the expertise of all of the partners to create an integrated approach to wildland fire management across Canada." dcooper@edmontonjournal. com