Fall and Winter 2012
COULD YOU SURVIVE FOR 72HRS? p. 8
FIRE ON THE LANDSCAPE
ENHANCING THE ALBERTA PUBLIC SAFETY SYSTEM p. 29
FireSmart Canada Community Recognition Program A FireSmart Canada initiative led by Partners in Protection Association.
FireSmart Canada Community Recognition program is designed to encourage local self-organized groups of neighbours to implement solutions for wildfire safety by engaging and supporting homeowners, community leaders, developers, planners, firefighters and government agencies in shared efforts to protect people and property from wildfire.
For information on how your community can become involved in the FireSmart Canada Community Recognition Program please visit our website at:
www.FireSmartCanada.ca FireSmart is a registered copyright of Partners in Protection Association.
4/prairie fire 8/ could you survive
for 72 hours?
11/ ask wes 12/ fireplace safety 16/ firesmart fall
18/ winter wildfires? 19/ fire on the landscape 23/ rangeland recovery 27/ property evacuation 29/ enhancing the alberta
public safety system
32/ tips to fire proof
FIRESMART FARM AND ACREAGE MAGAZINE
Design S.L. Belanger
Contributing Editors Geoffrey Driscoll, Whitney Exton and Leslie Lozinski
Contributing Writers Marty Alexander, Rick Arthur, John Conrad, Whitney Exton, Kevin France, Mark Froehler, Mark Heathcott, Kevan Jess, Leslie Lozinski, Matthew McDonald, Wes Nimco, Kelly O’Shea, Randall Schwanke and Christopher Thompson.
Supporting Agencies Wildland firefighting is a co-operative effort. This project would not have been possible without the talent, experience and dedication of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and other organizations who strive to educate and protect Albertans from wildfire including Alberta Municipal Affairs and the Office of the Fire Commissioner, and Alberta Emergency Management Assocation.
Dear Reader, The Partners in Protection Association is pleased to bring you the second edition of the FireSmart Farm and Acreage Magazine. The first edition was a huge success, thanks in no small part to all those who contributed their time and commitment to making it happen, especially to the participating staff from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Thanks also to the contribution from participating counties and to agencies and companies that provided advertising revenue. We decided to publish a fall edition to cover some of the FireSmart issues that are relevant to fall and winter fire, such as winter prairie fires and relevant information that rural residents and property owners can use to help them prepare for the fall and winter seasons. With the onset of winter snow and cold it is easy to become complacent about fire hazards and risks. Wildland fires do occur during the fall and winter. Last fall, wind driven fires in southern Alberta threatened numerous homes, farms and communities. With the support of Alberta Municipal Affairs, Partners in Protection contracted wildland fire behaviour specialists Marty Alexander, an adjunct professor of forest fire science at the University of Alberta, Mark Heathcott, a free-lance fire behaviour analyst, and Randall Schwanke, a fire management officer at Waterton Lakes National Park, to complete a case study on these fires. Their findings are reflected in the article Winter Wildfires. Fall and winter fires don’t just occur on the prairies. In December 1997, a wildfire started in Yellowhead County, north of the Town of Hinton and resulted in the loss of one home, several outbuildings and threatened the Town of Hinton. It can happen again and likely will. We must remain vigilant, regardless of the season. The Partners in Protection Association is proud to announce two new initiatives; a new website, and the FireSmart Canada Communities Recognition Program. The FireSmart Canada Community Recognition Program provides a process to help communities work toward reducing their risks from wildland fire. Both can be found at www.firesmartcanada.ca.
© COPYRIGHT 2012 Partners In Protection Association 5320-122 Street Edmonton, Alberta T6H 3S5 780-435-7338 Working Together For Safer Communities in the Wildland/Urban Interface
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This magazine is made possible through the support of Alberta Municipal Affairs, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and paid advertising. We hope it helps you become FireSmart. Kelly O'Shea Executive Director Partners In Protection Association www.partnersinprotection.com
OHVs CAN START WILDFIRES KEEP YOUR MACHINES CLEAN Visit our website: srd.alberta.ca or call 310-0000
FIRE The words struck fear in every homesteader across the prairies. There were no fire departments or fire trucks. The only support you had was from your own planning, your family and your neighbours. Your entire lifeâ€™s work, along with the means to sustain your family, could be wiped out in a few hours by fire. Long distances between neighbours, poor access and no infrastructure meant that help would arrive too late. There was no insurance and no disaster recovery programs. Aid for post-fire recovery came from local fundraisers and your neighbours.
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PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF ALBERTA PHOTO
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n 1909, when Alberta was a new province with a population of less than 150,000 people, drought struck leaving the new immigrants with failed or poor crops. In early October, a fire started near present-day Hanna. Driven by changing winds, the fire swept across the prairies nearly to Kindersley, Saskatchewan and north almost to Edmonton. Much of the area was just being settled or had not been settled at all. There were reports of cured grasses being belly high on a horse. In addition, some areas had heavy accumulations of dried grasses as it had been 30 years since the great herds of bison had grazed there. Additionally, there had been
little burning disturbance by the Aboriginals since the signing of the treaties. In three days, this fire burned an estimated 12-14 million acres, razed numerous homesteads and killed a woman and her two daughters as they fled on foot. This fire became known as the last of the “great prairie fires” common in that era. Fatalities occurred as well.
wildfire has been one of the most critical factors in shaping our ecosystem. Fire is nature’s way of restoring healthy, resilient landscapes. The rough fescue grasslands across the prairies were created not just by bison grazing, but by fire as well– much of it intentionally lit by Aborginal peoples for specific objectives.
In 1910, the prairies remained clouded in smoke as fires burned over a million acres in the newly-formed forest reserves from Mill Creek near Pincher Creek to the Red Deer River.
The use of fire by Aboriginal peoples has been well documented, but we are only beginning to understand how widespread and how complex their burning practises were. The use of fire is one of the key features that distinguish humanity from the rest of the species on the planet. Without fire, humans
Wildfire can be a threat to people and homes, but we must also recognize that
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might still be foraging off a predator’s kill, or we might have become extinct. The clues about how widespread and complex the use of fire was by aboriginal peoples come from a variety of sources. One is from the traditional knowledge from Elders. References to when/why/how fire was used traditionally still exists within some Aboriginal communities. Anthropologists have documented over 70 reasons for uses of fire by Aboriginal peoples. Some soil analysis has found that carbon composes up to 60% of the soil structure in some areas across the prairies.
PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF ALBERTA PHOTO
PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF ALBERTA PHOTO
Journals from early explorers give clues to the use of fire as well. Peter Fiddlers’ journal of his travels (November 1792 – March 1793) between present day Elk Point and the Livingston Gap has over 30 references to widespread burning by Aboriginal peoples, all through the winter when little snow was on the landscape. Peter Kane referenced seeing three aboriginal men caught in front of a fast-moving prairie fire near Fort Edmonton in the mid-1800s. He was certain the men would perish but they quickly lit a “line of fire” that was drawn back into the main fire. The men safely stepped into the newly blackened area,
thus avoiding danger. Kane was not simply describing the burning of an escape fire (sophisticated in itself) but a back firing operation which requires a considerable understanding of fire behaviour to successfully execute. Accounts from early settlers also provide clues to how widespread the use of fire was and how effective it was in maintaining and renewing the landscape and ecosystems. Much of the outer foothills and the Bow Corridor areas were kept open through the frequent use of fire to maintain grasslands for bison and other ungulates. The
daughter of a homesteader described the Bragg Creek area in the early 1900s as being mostly open grassland between Calgary to well west of Bragg Creek with the exception of a few burnt areas of trees. She also recalled and that there were thousands of Sharp Tail Grouse everywhere. Today, the outer foothills that were grazed and hayed are now mature forests due to fire exclusion and forest encroachment. The Sharp Tail Grouse population is in serious decline across the Prairies. Not by co-incidence, the Blackfoot referred to Sharp Tailed Grouse as “Fire Chickens,” as frequent burning for bison also
maintained the grass lands free of a heavy grass mat. This also kept their breeding areas open and gave the birds the ability to forage for seeds and insects. Fire has been a critical part of Alberta’s ecosystems. Our ecosystems are not only resilient to fire, but they are also dependent on fire for maintenance. Keeping in mind that fire is and will continue to be part of the landscape, we must design our homes and communities to be resilient to wildfire. This will help to avoid losses and recover post-fire.
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COULD YOU SURVIVE FOR 72 HOURS? No one knows for sure when disaster will strike, but we can be prepared. 8/FIRESMART FARM AND ACREAGE MAGAZINE
he evacuation of Slave Lake in May 2011 and the evacuation of Zama in July 2012 remind us that we need to be prepared in case disaster strikes. Could you and your family self-sustain for 72 hours? Create your own 72-hour emergency kit, and a readyto-go kit, ensuring you have the necessary items to help you and your family until emergency responders can reach you or until you can get settled in temporary accommodations. Below are items you may want to include in your kits.
to update your kits every six months to make sure that food, water and medication are not expired, clothing fits, personal documents and credit cards are up to date, and batteries are charged.
72 Hour Preparedness Kit Food and water
(Three-day supply of non-perishables per person.)
• protein/granola bars • trail mix/dried fruit • crackers and cereals • canned meat, fish and beans • canned juice • water (4 L per person, include small bottles to carry with you)
Bedding and clothing
• sleeping bags/blankets/ emergency heat blankets • plastic and cloth sheets • change of clothing per person (short- and long-sleeve shirts, pants, socks, undergarments) • raincoat/poncho/jacket • spare shoes
Light and fuel
• hand-crank or battery-operated flashlights/lamps
• extra batteries • flares • candles • lighter • waterproof matches
• spare car and house keys • manual can opener • dishes and utensils • shovel • radio (with spare batteries/hand operated crank) • pen and paper • axe/pocket knife • rope • duct tape • whistle • cellphone charger • basic tools • small stove with fuel (follow manufacturer’s directions for operation and storage)
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Personal supplies and medication
• first-aid kit • toiletries (toilet paper, feminine hygiene, toothbrush) • cleaning supplies (hand sanitizer, dish soap, water purifier, etc.) • medication (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, children’s medication, etc., and three-day supply of prescription medication) • three-day supply of pet food, water and medication • pet leash and bowls • garbage bags • toys/reading material
Copies of personal documents and money (in waterproof container)
• legal documents (birth and marriage certificates, wills, passports, contracts) • recent photos of family members and pets in case you are separated • insurance policies • cash in small bills • credit card(s) • prepaid phone cards • copy of your emergency plan • emergency contact information for in-town and out-of-town
Keep ready-to-go kit Ready-to-Go Kit items in a backpack, duffle • 4 L of water for each person bag or suitcase, in an • non-perishable food accessible place, such as a • manual can opener front-hall closet. Make sure • plastic/paper plates, cups, knives, forks, spoons your kit is easy to carry, • hand-crank or battery-operated and everyone in the house flashlight • extra batteries knows where it is. Take it • change of clothes with you if you have to • emergency contact for in-town leave your house so you and out-of-town • pet food, medication, water and can be prepared. supplies for at least three days • small first aid kit • personal identification card • personal hygiene items, soap, hand sanitizer
*Store medicine you usually take near your ready-to-go kit.
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Why do I need a fire permit?
»» Getting a permit tells us where to expect smoke or
s e W k s A
fire. If you burn without a permit, and smoke or fire is reported, resources including firefighters and helicopters could be dispatched and you could be charged for them. Help us send our resources where they are really needed by getting a fire permit. Fire permits also help you to know if your planned burn is safe. A fire guardian or patrolman will visit your burn site before issuing the permit, and can provide valuable tips for making your burn safer. They will also review the conditions on the back of the permit that restrict burning under unsafe conditions. Fire permits are free, so take advantage of the expertise! Call your local ESRD office, country or municipality for more information.
What happens if I burn without a permit?
EVERY ORGANIZATION HAS A “GO-TO GUY” AND OUR ORGANIZATION IS NO DIFFERENT. WHEN ANYONE HAS A QUESTION THEY DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO, THEY ALWAYS... ASK WES! Why can’t I burn? I received some rain.
»» Even though you have received rain, it may not have
been enough to effectively dampen the ground. Most areas of the forest (especially farmland) have rich soil that is comprised of a lot of peat and organic matter. This soil requires extra moisture to filter down into deeper layers of the soil in order to sufficiently lower the hazard. Light rainfall will only moisten the top layer of soil, while soil a few inches below will remain dry. If burning is done when there is not enough moisture in the soil, chances for a holdover fire are greatly increased.
What is a holdover fire?
»» A holdover fire happens when one believes that their
fire has been extinguished, but smouldering matter remains below the surface. These smouldering areas can remain dormant for extended periods of time and on hot, windy days, resurface and turn into a wildfire. Any winter burning should be checked in the spring for potential holdover fires.
»» The consequences of burning without a permit vary.
You could be fined under the Forest and Prairie Protection Act or under your local municipality by-laws . You could be requested to extinguish the fire at our own expense or to reimburse the local fire authority for extinguishing it . The biggest risk to burning without a permit it that it is possible that firefighting resources like ground crews , the local fire department and even helicopters or water tankers could be dispatched to suppress your fire. You would be responsible for all costs. A permit lets ESRD and other firefighting agencies know where to expect smoke. If you don’t have a permit, we assume smoke or flames indicate a wildfire and resources will be dispatched.
What is prohibited debris or debris I cannot burn under the authority of my fire permit?
»» Prohibited debris means any combustible waste
that when burned may result in the release of dense smoke, offensive odours or toxic substances. This includes things like animal manure, tires, combustible material in automobile bodies, used oil, wood products that are treated with preservatives and pathological waste.
If I only have time to do a couple of things this fall to FireSmart my yard, what should I do?
»» The first thing I would do is cut all the tall grass
around your buildings and house. Do not give wildfire a chance to spread. Next to your combine and tractor, your lawnmower and string trimmer are two of your most important investments. The second thing I would do is clean the eavestroughs and roof of leaves, branches and twigs. Airborne embers are one of the main reasons houses are lost to wildfire. Cleaning your eaves and roof helps reduce the risk of wildfire spreading to your home.
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- FIREPLACE -
SAFETY With the onset of fall and winter there is nothing like a fireplace to make a home feel warm and inviting. Wood fires have that special ambiance that makes one feel connected with nature, and they can provide cost effective heating and a back-up heat source in the event of power failure. Traditional fireplaces are open combustion systems that are not energy efficient, but provide an outdoors atmosphere. Modern wood fireplaces, stoves and inserts are insulated with closed combustion systems that burn wood more efficiently and provide a good source of heat. But, if fireplaces are not installed and maintained properly they can present a fire hazard to the home.
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Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed to safely burn wood and expel the by-products of combustion up through the chimney. As these unburned substances rise and contact cooler surfaces, they condense into a tar-like residue called creosote. Creosote sticks to the inner walls of the chimney and is highly flammable. The creosote can build up in sufficient quantities and, if ignited, will sustain a destructive chimney fire. Conditions that allow the buildup of creosote are; restricted air supply, unseasoned wood and cooler-than-normal chimney temperatures. Fire loss statistics provided by the Office of the Fire Commissioner indicate that 5% of home fires are related to fireplaces– primarily chimney fires. In addition, fireplaces and wood stoves that are not vented properly can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
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TIPS TO ENSURE PROPER FIREPLACE SAFETY INSTALLATION:
1. A building permit is required in Alberta to
install any solid fuel appliance including a fireplace, fireplace insert or wood burning stove. This also applies to appliances burning solid fuel other than wood including coal, compressed wood pellets, etc. These permits must be obtained from the local municipality when the municipality is accredited under the Safety Codes Act in the building discipline,. In all other areas it must be obtained from an accredited agency authorized by Alberta Municipal Affairs. See municipalaffairs.alberta.ca/to determine where to get the permit in your location. 2. Purchasing a permit must result in an onsite inspection of the installation by a building safety codes officer. 3. Fireplaces, fireplace inserts and wood stoves and their installation must conform to Alberta Building Code (Sections 9.21. & 9.22.) and should be installed by a qualified tradesperson. Some of the additional standards referenced under the codes include: • CAN/CSA-B365-01 Installation Code for SolidFuel-Burning Appliances and Equipment, • ULC-S628-93 Fireplace Inserts, • CAN/ULC-S629-M87 650C Factory-Built Chimneys, and • NFPA 211-2003 Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances 4. Factory-built fireplace assemblies must be installed in accordance with all of the manufacturer’s instructions and be certified in accordance with “CAN/ULC-S610-M87, Factory-Built Fireplaces.” Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are required to be installed in buildings with solid fuel burning appliances as per the Alberta Building Code 2006. 5. Consider installing a stovepipe thermometer on air tight/wood stoves to monitor flue temperatures. 6. A chimney liner prevents overheating, improves energy efficiency and makes fireplace maintenance easier These liners must meet CAN/ULC-S639-M87 (R2000) Steel Liner Assemblies for Solid-Fuel Burning Masonry Fireplaces. 7. Owners are advised to check with their insurance provider. Some companies have requirements and expectations for solid fuel appliances that are above the requirements of the Alberta Building Code. 8. Ensure that the chimney of your fireplace or stove has an appropriate sized spark arrestor and is located in accordance with the Alberta Building Code away from any trees or other structures.
1. Keep fireplaces/stoves clean. Have the chimney
and fireplace/stove inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep annually before cold weather arrives. 2. Members/graduates of Wood Energy Technology Transfer Inc (WETT) specialize in cleaning and inspecting wood burning appliances. More information may be found at www.wettinc.ca.
3. Check and clean (wipe, dust and/or vacuum) smoke and carbon monoxide alarms monthly and at the same time, replace batteries where applicable annually.
4. Keep the area around the hearth clear of
flammable materials (papers, books, boxes etc.). 5. Ensure that the fireplace/stove receives enough fresh air for complete combustion. This helps prevent creosote from building up in the chimney. 6. Ensure that the roof is kept clean of leaves, needles and other combustibles that may accumulate.
1. When building a fire, place wood near the back
of the burn chamber. NEVER use an accelerant or flammable or combustible liquid to start a fire. 2. Open the damper before lighting the fire, and keep it open until the ashes are cool enough to touch. 3. Use only dry cured wood, preferably hardwoods (birch, ash, oak ,etc) to reduce creosote buildup. 4. Never burn cardboard or other waste materials in the fireplace or stove. 5. Use a metal mesh hearth screen when burning in an open fireplace. 6. Fires that are smaller and burn more completely produce less smoke and creosote. 7. Fires should be attended by an adult at all times. Ensure that the fire is out before going to bed or leaving the house. 8. Place ashes in a metal pail with a closed lid and store outside the house.
If you have a chimney fire, get everyone out of the house and call 911. *For detailed and complete building codes and fire regulations, please refer to the Alberta Building Code and the Alberta Fire Code website at municipalaffairs.alberta.ca or contact the Province of Alberta’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Safety Services branch at 1-866-421-6929.
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Fall Farming Practices Fall is a busy time of year in the farming community with completing the harvest and getting the last of the bales hauled in before the snow. Wildfire is probably the last thing on your mind, but with a little planning you can reduce the threat of wildfire to your property for the winter and into the spring season. 16/FIRESMART FARM AND ACREAGE MAGAZINE
Cured and dry grass can be hazardous not just in the spring, but in late fall and winter as well. Under the right weather conditions, with high winds and no snow cover, grass fires in the later fall and winter can spread quickly and threaten farms, ranches and acreages.
and Sustainable Resource Development and FPInnovations have proven fall mowing to be an effective fire break, slowing the spread of wildfire and giving firefighters a chance to contain the fire. Mowing grass short in the fall will put you ahead of the game in the spring.
Before you put your tillage equipment away for the winter, make one or two passes around your yard and feed storage areas. This will help prevent the spread of fire into your yard and give the local fire department an anchor point to work from. If you have property that butts up against a community, sub-division or any other residents, be a good neighbour and make a few passes next to them. This will protect them as well as you from wildfire. This practice will also have you ready for the spring fire season, with one less thing to worry about when you should be seeding.
Fall is also a good time to clean out flower beds next to the house and other out buildings. Dead and dry flower and plant stems that build up in flower beds can easily ignite from embers blown around by the wind from an advancing wildfire. Once this vegetation catches fire it can easily cause the house or out buildings to ignite.
Fall grass mowing is a good way to help prevent the spread of wildfire. Studies and field tests carried out by Environment
Cleaning the leaves out of roof valleys and out of your eaves is also a good fall project. Like the dry vegetation in the flower beds, leaves piled up in roof valleys and eaves are a good ignition point for airborne embers.
Another good fall FireSmart practice is to check power lines and poles proximity to trees and branches. A large number of wildfires are caused each year from downed power lines coming into contact with trees. Check your poles for rot and replacement; if the pole belongs to your local utility provider, contact them with your concerns. Walk the lines and look for any tree branches or trees in poor condition that may come in contact with the line in high wind. Then contact your local utility provider to remove or trim the trees or branches. Cleaning up the down and dead wood in your yard, shelter belts, woodlots and near your home and fences is a good family project for the fall. Bigger pieces can be used for firewood and small branches can be used for wiener and marshmallow roasts. This is also a great way to teach the kids about FireSmart practices so they become responsible farmers just like you.
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Soon after a grass fire starts and while it is still small aggressively fighting the fire can generally be safely and effectively attempted. Once a fire has grown beyond that, it can quickly become a threat to your personal safety.
Winter Wildfires? Yes, it is true. We normally don’t think these two go hand in hand - don’t wildfires generally occur during the spring and summer seasons of the year? Well, the two wildfires that broke out on Sunday, November 27, 2011 in southern Alberta definitely dispelled that myth. The Lethbridge fire started on the Blood Indian Reserve, jumped the Oldman River, and burned into the outskirts of the city of Lethbridge; covering a distance of 12 km in around an hour-and-a-half.
• Under such explosive burning conditions, a grass fire is able to produce flames in excess of three metres high and readily spread to large sizes in a short period of time, thereby easily overwhelming the capability of local fire departments to contain. A major barrier to fire spread and (or) a significant drop in the strength of the winds is required to stop a fire’s headlong assault.
The McIntyre Ranch fire started just off Highway 62 on the Milk River Ridge and spread northeast for over 30 kilometres in the space of about four hours. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed as a result of these wildfires. Two residences on the reserve were completely destroyed and others were threatened, however.
• From an analysis of historical weather records and existing models for predicting grassland fire behaviour, the fuel and weather conditions that were responsible for what transpired in late November of last year in southern Alberta happen far more often than one would think. With this recurring potential, the only missing ingredient is some form of ignition, which thankfully is for the most part lacking.
We have undertaken a case study investigation of the Lethbridge and McIntyre Ranch fires. What we have found from our analysis of these two winter wildfires and of the associated wildland fire environment of southern Alberta is that:
• A monitoring and early warning system for grassland fire danger that meets the needs of the general public and emergency services coupled with education and training is required to avert potential future wildfire disasters.
• This is not the first incident of winter wildfires in the area.
The forested regions of the province are certainly not immune to winter wildfires either. The Entrance Ranch Fire that occurred just north of Hinton on December 14, 1997 as discussed in the FireSmart manual Protecting Your Community from Wildfire represents a good case in point.
• The lack of snow cover in early winter exposed fully-cured grassland fuels resulting in a landscape that was vulnerable to the occurrence of potentially disastrous fires. With the onset of Chinook wind conditions, all that is required is an ignition source, which in both incidents was the result of human carelessness.
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The Authors: Marty Alexander is an adjunct professor of forest fire science at the University of Alberta, Mark Heathcott is a freelance fire behaviour analyst living in Calgary, and Randall Schwanke is the fire management officer at Waterton Lakes National Park.
Wildfires in dry grass are especially responsive to sudden changes in wind direction and strength and should therefore be given healthy dose of respect. Both firefighters and members of the public have been seriously burned and also killed from being overrun by a grass fire. The Lethbridge and McIntyre Ranch fires travelled at an average speed of about 7.5 to eight kilometres per hour and their peak speeds could have easily been twice this fast. This is not unusual considering the weather and winds at the time. In simpler terms, the wildfire burned at a speed of about 130 metres in a minute. In an emergency, an able-bodied person might be able to out run a grass fire and reach safety provided the distance is not too great. While we have no control over the weather, make sure to monitor snow cover conditions and listen to weather forecasts for high winds when bare ground situations exist. Reduce the grass fire danger around your home through grazing, mowing or creating firebreaks. Finally, don’t start wildfires. Take the time to check that your burning barrel is tied down and if you’ve burned debris piles in the open recently, check to see that they are fully extinguished.
FIRE -ON THE-
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or over 70 years, wildfire has been suppressed in Alberta. It is only recently that we have begun to realize how important fire is on the landscape, and how essential it is to the ecosystem. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, and removing it has impacted species habitat and diversity and the way forests function. 20/FIRESMART FARM AND ACREAGE MAGAZINE
Fire increases landscape diversity. It recycles nutrients, helps plants reproduce and creates a mosaic of vegetation that provides habitat and food for a variety of wildlife. Animals like bears, moose and deer are foragers and they thrive in open, grassy areas. Without fire, trees begin encroaching on these areas and reduce habitat and food supply for a variety of species. Fire also helps control the forest’s age and increases the forest’s resiliency to pests. In the absence of wildfire, trees grow and age at similar rates, creating thick canopies, shading the forest floor and reducing the undergrowth vegetation. The buildup of dead and dying vegetation is fuel for wildfires, helping the wildfire to burn more intensely and more quickly, making it difficult to contain. And, as more Albertans move closer to forests, these wildfires may threaten them and their communities. Alberta is taking steps to re-introduce fire into the ecosystem in a way that is better contained and less intense than naturally-occurring wildfire. Prescribed fire is this proactive approach to wildfire management. Prescribed fires help restore ecosystems, restore healthy and resilient forests, and reduce the potential for large, uncontrollable wildfires. Safety is first priority for any prescribed fire; during the planning process, specific conditions are identified to ensure the safe and successful execution of every prescribed fire. The window of opportunity to start any prescribed fire
project where every condition is met, including the safety of Albertans, is extremely small. Every prescribed fire is staffed by highly trained fire managers and firefighters that work to contain the direction, intensity and spread of the fire. Whenever possible, prescribed fires are planned to mimic nature by using natural firebreaks—areas that slow or stop a wildfire’s spread—such as a mountain or river. After a prescribed fire, the area burned can be used by firefighters to fight a wildfire that may occur in the area. These natural firebreaks will also reduce the spread and intensity of other wildfires that may occur in the area, reducing their risk of threatening Albertans and their communities.
By reintroducing fire in a contained manner, we can reduce wildfire costs by: toffsetting t the costs of wildfire suppression tpreventing t large, uncontrollable wildfires that threaten Albertans and their communities trestoring t healthy, balanced forests that are more resistant to pests, and treducing t the threat of disease.
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EVAN-THOMAS CREEK Located along Highway 40 and five kilometres southeast of Kananaskis Village, the EvanThomas Creek prescribed fire commenced in August 2011. In the absence of wildfire, trees in the valley were aging at the same rate. Many were encroaching on wildlife and vegetation habitat, decreasing diversity and food. The high buildup of dead and dying trees and brush on the forest floor increased the potential for an intense, fastmoving wildfire to threaten Kananaskis Village, day use and camping areas, and everyone recreating in the area.
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For the prescribed fire to succeed, fire managers considered several aspects: • avoiding long weekends due to high foot and road traffic • avoiding goat kidding and habitat • forecasted weather • smoke management conditions, and • on-the-ground forest conditions. Only when these objectives fell within specific parameters did fire managers proceed. While some trails and recreation areas were temporarily closed and road traffic delayed, operations
proceeded smoothly. Fire managers successfully burned just under 300 hectares of land with minimal impact to the surrounding area and people. The prescribed fire area will improve and expand wildlife habitat and vegetation diversity, remove pest habitat and act as a break where firefighters can fight any wildfires that may start in the valley. Most importantly, the prescribed fire created a break in the landscape that reduces the potential threat of wildfire to the area, communities and people.
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THE TIMING OF WILDFIRES AND FIRE INTENSITY PRODUCE DIFFERENT RESULTS AND CHALLENGES FOR RANGE RECOVERY.
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ildfires can generate both positive and negative consequences to our native rangelands. Generally, fire is a positive disturbance for grasslands, essential for regenerating fire-dependent plant species, controlling plant pathogens and preventing tree and shrub encroachment. Fire was a constant presence in the last 9,000 years, and has fluctuated with regional climate change, post-glacial forest to grassland succession and cultural change. Whether it was natural, lightning strikes or First Nations burning, these areas burned regularly. The intensity of each fire depends on fuel loads (the amount and type of burnable material on the ground), fuel moisture (the dryness of the materials on the ground), fire temperature and duration. Individual fire events will be effected by conditions at the time of the fire. Generally, grassland fires are relatively low intensity, short duration events. Rarely will fires burn into the soil. Unfortunately, fire can have detrimental effects on our native rangelands, especially in areas of excessive fuel loads. Fires with high fine fuel loads, such as dormant or dead grass, can lead to high intensity, severe fires. These fires usually lead to distressing results such as forage loss for livestock, infrastructure loss, soil erosion and the potential for weed invasion.
TO ASSESS THE SEVERITY OF THE FIRE YOU NEED TO CONSIDER THESE INDICATORS: Light fire– abundance of unburned litter (leaves, twigs, grass) on the ground and the grass thatch is intact Moderate fire– ground litter is mostly burned with a few holes in thatch layer Severe fire – litter completely burned and there is significant penetration of the thatch layer
INDICATORS THAT YOU CAN MONITOR TO ASSIST YOU IN UNDERSTANDING RANGE RECOVERY: Bare Soil – Fire can create an increase in bare soil; monitor the amount of bare soil and any soil erosion. Bare soil should be re-vegetated within 2 years post fire. Time of year of the fire can generate different results as well. Most of our natural fires occur during the summer months due to lightning strikes. However, native rangelands also evolved with traditional burning from First Nations people. First Nations often burned grassland during the spring and fall to provide better foraging opportunities such as berry picking, better hunting for moose and elk, and better protection from other tribes. The ecological implications of the season a wildfire burns can be quite dramatic. Generally, spring wildfires are low intensity and low severity. The fall/winter wildfires generally have higher intensity and higher severity due to dormant vegetation and high fuel loads left from the growing season. These fires can actually burn in the the roots of plants and trees and the mulch layer in the soil which can lead to soil sterilization. Therefore, the long-term recovery of fall/winter wildfires is much different. For spring wildfires, recovery can be quite rapid, whereas depending on the severity of the fall/winter wildfires, recovery can take up to five years to fully recover to pre-wildfire conditions. It is imperative that you monitor recovery of your rangeland to ensure that it is recovering in the right direction.
Litter Accumulation – Fire will remove the majority of litter. The goal of post fire management should be to increase litter accumulation back to pre-burn conditions. Litter is critical in maintaining range health, it functions as nutrient inputs, retains moisture at the soil surface and promotes plant rejuvenation. Weeds – Weeds are opportunistic species. High severity fires can create opportunities for weed invasion, usually due to the increase in bare ground. Monitor to ensure weeds are not moving into the burnt area. You may have to control weeds to deter further spread. Species diversity – Our native rangelands are very diverse. Fire can remove species that are more susceptible to extreme heat, however most of our native species are tolerant of fire. Therefore, fire recovery should lead to an increase of biodiversity similar to the conditions of the area before it was burnt. The Alberta Rangeland Health Assessment is a tool that can be very useful in assisting with Fire recovery monitoring. More information of the Range Health Tool can be found by contacting your local ESRD office.
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If you have grazing animals, ensure you apply the range management principles and practices for post-wildfire grazing. Balance livestock needs with forage supply. Minimize the effects of spring grazing. Distribute livestock evenly across the burned area and provide effective rest for the area. Generally, it is recommended that you defer grazing for at least one to two years after the area was burned. This time can vary dependent upon moisture availability and fire severity. Some of our most sensitive rangelands may need up to five years of rest before grazing. Though there can be negatives associated with fire, it is important to remember there are multiple benefits of fire as well. Benefits include ecosystem renewal, increase in forage availability and quality, removal of dead vegetation, improvement in wildlife habitat and nutrient cycling. Fire acts as a rejuvenating agent and ecosystems have evolved with fire. It is critical to implement a post-fire management plan to ensure fire recovery is rapid and the trajectory is towards the prefire, healthy state. If you have any questions about fire recovery or the Rangeland Health Tool, please contact a rangeland specialist with Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
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We all hope, and often think, that we will never need to evacuate our property. While this hope is usually accurate, unforeseen events can change things rapidly. We should prepare ourselves and our family for being away from our property and prepare the property for our absence. A major concern when evacuating is the potential hazards to people, property and the environment. Pre-planning can reduce the short- and long-term concerns as well as make your property safer for emergency responders. FIRESMART FARM AND ACREAGE MAGAZINE
Natural gas, propane or fuel oil is often used to heat homes. Similar fuels may include gasoline, diesel and kerosene. Prior to evacuation, heating system fuel supply should be shut off. Natural gas shut-off valves will typically be found at the gas metre (usually outside the house). Shut off the gas by turning the valve the opposite way of the flow of gas with a crescent wrench. Propane is provided in either tanks or cylinders. In either case, closing the valve on the line leading to the building will stop the flow of gas. Shutting off propane and natural gas will extinguish their pilot lights. Pilot lights must be re-lit by a professional in order to restore your heating system. If there has been any damage to your property, it should be reevaluated by a gas fitter prior to occupancy. The gas fitter should relight pilot lights after they are certain there has been no damage to, and no leaks in, the system.
Supplementary electricity may be provided by other sources including photovoltaic panels or windmills. This power, up to 600V DC, is often stored in batteries and then through an inverter turned into 110v AC current to use in the building. While inverters reduce the amount of electricity used, they can present special challenges for responders. The inverter can be turned off or disconnected so the system no longer feeds the building wiring; however, there is no way to directly shut off the panels or the windmill. As long as the sun (or fire) lights up the panel or the wind blows, power is being produced and sent to the storage batteries. It is important that the location of the source and batteries is made known to emergency responders and that the inverter is turned off prior to evacuation. If damage occurs, the electrical system(s) should be evaluated by a professional electrician prior to re-energising the building or any of its components.
THE ALBERTA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY PROVIDES GUIDELINES TO ASSIST IN PREPARING YOUR FAMILY AND PROPERTY PRIOR TO AN EMERGENCY. WWW.AEMA.ALBERTA.CA/AEMA_TRAINING.CFM Appliances that burn fuel oil may also be used to heat buildings. Close the valve between the tank and the appliance; if there is a supply pump on the system, turn it off as well. If damage occurs, the system must be inspected by a professional. Valves on other flammable or combustible liquids on site that are not the heating source should be closed at the tank face. Covers, caps or lids must be securely attached, secondary containment areas around the tank should be intact and clear of combustibles, and any containers closed, secured and properly stored on site. Accumulation and storage of flammable and combustible liquids, including used oil, should be avoided, particularly in a residential setting.
Unless electricity is supplying energy for a fire protection system, it should be disconnected. On rural properties, the main supply switch can be pulled or pushed on the metre case, usually located on a power pole away from the building(s). Otherwise, the main breaker on the electrical panel (usually at the top and labelled at 60 or more Amps) can be turned off.
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If the water system is not supplying a fire protection system, it should be turned off, and, if the temperature is below freezing, at least partially drained by opening a tap at a high and low point in the system after shutting off the supply. If the system is supplied by a well or cistern, the pump should be shut off and the pump valve closed. If the system is common with other properties, close the valve at the building entry point.
Dangerous goods, like cleaning chemicals, pesticides or compressed gases, need to be dealt with in advance. Proper storage, minimal quantities, separating incompatible products, securing cylinders and identifying products and locations can all reduce or eliminate the chance of these products creating additional risks to people, property and the environment. Property owners can do many things to reduce the impact from these identified risks during a wildfire situation. Contact your local fire department to discuss concerns and notify them of specific risks.
ALBERTA PUBLIC SAFETY SYSTEM FIRESMART FARM AND ACREAGE MAGAZINE
n July 2012, the hamlet of Zama in northern Alberta was in a fight for survival as a wildfire exceeding 130,000 hectares edged within 12 kilometres of the community. A well-established FireSmart program in Zama and a well-coordinated municipal and provincial government response were both strong factors in saving the community. The FireSmart program is rooted in mitigation and preparedness. Similarly, the Government of Alberta is a strong advocate of preparedness and mitigation. The provincial government has been looking to establish clear leads for emergencies by referencing legislation, regulation, policy and/or plan. Additionally, the provincial government worked hard to establish the roles, responsibilities, accountability and authority during emergencies so it is clearer which government department is responsible for leading the support for communities and industry, and which departments are responsible for providing essential support.
The role of AEMA in all of this is coordination. Since early 2010, Alberta has undertaken a review of its public safety system which included analyzing how its Provincial Operations Centre (POC) functions and how emergencies are reported to senior government decision makers. These initiatives have been further inspired by the Slave Lake wildfire in May 2011. Refining any public safety system requires constant effort and attention, and Alberta has enhanced the way the province prepares, mitigates, responds and recovers from emergencies and disasters. The key among these enhancements is the reorganization of the government’s POC. The POC is now on a permanent level one status— continual readiness and monitoring of events across the province with government-employed duty officers who are seasoned in emergency management and response. In the past, a 24/7 duty watch had been provided by a third party agency. The contracted duty watch would alert Alberta Emergency Management Agency and key government stakeholders in times of heightened crisis as the
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government’s POC was “activated.” With the POC now permanently at level one, the province is better positioned to mobilize provincial partners essential to emergencies. There are four distinct levels that operate in Alberta’s POC ranging from level one (routine monitoring) to level four (activation). Level four involves all stakeholders and government ministries responding to a significant incident in Alberta. The key for municipal emergency managers—the frontline of response in any crisis—is that they are never alone. Advice and support is available 24/7 to municipalities through experienced AEMA field officers and the revamped POC. Reinforcing the model of a lead agency and a thorough review of legislation and regulation has identified the various agencies that would lead for specific hazards and emergencies in Alberta. The lead agency leads the response throughout the issue, and all the coordinated resources of the provincial government assist in dealing with the crisis. The coordinating agency is responsible for fully supporting the lead agency and connecting provincial resources in a harmonized, coherent manner.
AEMA coordinates government response when required. There are also a few occasions were AEMA is also the lead agency. For example, a wildfire that crosses multiple jurisdictions outside the Forest Protection Area is an AEMA-led crisis. Thus, AEMA’s interest in FireSmart and maintaining a close partnership with municipal authorities and Environment and Sustainable Resource Development is understandable.
MACKENZIE COUNTY The wildfire crisis in Mackenzie County in July 2012 serves as a perfect example of the current provincial response and coordination. ESRD had been fighting several wildfires in Mackenzie County in early July. An out-of-control wildfire about 400 hectares in size started close to the community of La Crete. Mackenzie County activated its Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) and as ESRD resources fought the fire, the POC remained at level one, continuing to monitor the situation. Over the next three days, a series of new fires started (shown in the July 10 figure). On the evening of July 10, the situation changed dramatically. A lightning-caused wildfire called HWF-106 north of the hamlet of Zama burned within 12 kilometres of the hamlet. A state of local emergency was declared and the citizens of Zama, more than 200 Albertans, were evacuated to a reception centre in High Level. Alberta’s POC, in close dialogue with ESRD, was elevated to level three on July 10 with a division of effort between fighting the wildfire and caring for a displaced community. AEMA, in full support of ESRD’s firefighting efforts, led Mackenzie County’s municipal authorities during their spectacular work with their evacuees and the wildfire crisis.
The elevation in POC levels includes setting an operational rhythm for the provincial government and a deliberate reporting to stakeholders, executive leaders and decision makers. The crisis continued for several days with brilliant work delivered by ESRD, emergency managers and first responders in Mackenzie County. Support for the Hamlet of Zama from fire departments came from as far away as Grande Prairie, and provincial efforts were coordinated by AEMA and key ministries and partners attending the POC (Health, Transportation, Human Services, the NGO Council, Public Safety Canada and Environment and Regulatory Control Board). With the successful return of evacuees to Zama on July 20, 2012 the province reduced the POC back to level one. The true end of the enhancements to the Alberta public safety system is not a new invention but rather a streamlining of information and effort. Refreshing these communication lines and processes is a matter of preparedness and, at the level of the provincial government, is just as important as a well-constructed fireguard. Stay tuned for further refinements as we work together to protect Albertans and their homes.
Fire situation Mackenzie County late evening 11 July, 2012
Fire Situation Mackenzie County 17 July 2012
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GET A FIRE PERMIT
(Until October 31 in the Forest Protection Area)
Wildfire season typically runs from April 1-October 31. In times of dry conditions or high wildfire danger, wildfire season can start earlier or end later. With this year’s late summer rain and fall weather forecast, fire season is expected to end on October 31. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any wildfires after this date, but it does mean the risk of wildfires is lessened. Remember that you need a permit to do any burning in the Forest Protection Area during wildfire season—excepting campfires for cooking and warming. County and municipality rules vary, with some requiring fire permits year-round. Check with your local fire authority for local information.
FIREPROOF YOUR ADDRESS SIGN
Help firefighters find your home by prominently displaying your address. Not all counties and municipalities have rural addressing initiatives. If there isn’t an initiative, consider having your own address sign made of fire-resistant materials. Display your address sign in a visible area near your driveway, and away from tall grass, bushes or overhanging branches. Remember to use metal posts to keep your sign in place.
MOW YOUR GRASS
Even if you don’t have time to do anything else this fall, make sure to mow your grass. If grass is left longer in the fall, it dries, and by spring it is a wildfire hazard. Cutting your grass short in the fall will help protect your house, outbuildings and gas tanks against the potential threat of spring grass fires.
CLEAN YOUR ROOF AND EAVESTROUGHS
It isn’t anyone’s favourite job, but it bears repeating – clean your roof and eavestroughs. The leaves, acorns, twigs and other debris that can fall on your roof and collect in your eaves will be a fire
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hazard in the spring. Sparks or flying embers from burn barrels, firepits, chimneys or even wildfires can land on your roof and ignite the litter. Removing the debris reduces the chances of a stray ember starting a fire on your roof.
PRUNE YOUR TREES
Not only is fall the healthiest time to prune your trees, it is a great time to prune low-hanging branches and bushes that are close to your home or other buildings. A swift-moving grass fire will travel from the ground into trees very easily if there are low-hanging branches. Trees growing too close together will also help a fire spread quickly. Some pruning pointers include removing tree branches up to two meters from the ground, removing thick shrubbery and deadfall, and keeping a space of three to six metres between the tops of your trees. A little pruning in the fall will help improve your yard’s potential to withstand a wildfire in the spring.
MOVE YOUR WOODPILE
Resist the temptation to pile your winter wood close to your back door. Firewood should be stored a minimum of 10 metres away from any structures. Be brave against the cold. It’s easier than dealing with a wildfire at your backdoor.
CHECK YOUR POWER LINES
Check your power lines and report any trees or branches that need removing to your electricity provider. Get ready now so the spring winds won’t blow trees onto your power lines. This could knock out your power or even start a wildfire.
CHECK YOUR CHIMNEY
Make sure your chimney is to code and has spark arrestor screens installed. Fireplaces and wood burning stoves get a lot of use in the winter and spring, so fall is a great time to check them. Your diligence can help prevent stray embers or sparks from travelling onto your roof or into your yard where they could start a wildfire.
HELP PROTECT YOUR FOREST Put out your campfire
SOAK IT STIR THE ASHES SOAK IT AGAIN
FirE PrEvEntion WEEk octobEr 7-13 What if your first escape route is blocked by smoke or flames? Ensure you and your family have two ways out of every room. For more information on how to prevent, detect and escape from fires, visit www.3minutedrill.alberta.ca.
This FireSmart Farm and Acreage Magazine presents a wealth of knowledge about the unique challenges farmers, ranchers and acreage owners fac...