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Prescribed burns could be postponed

Parks Canada successfully carried out the Jackladder prescribed burn near the Jasper Airfield in April 2016. P. Clarke photo.

Parks Canada successfully carried out the Jackladder prescribed burn near the Jasper Airfield in April 2016. P. Clarke photo.

Two prescribed fires that were expected to be burned this spring could be postponed until the fall after a significant amount of rainfall over the weekend dampened expectations.

Parks Canada’s fire crews had hoped to carry out a prescribed fire near Fiddle Creek, but will likely have to wait after 37 millimetres of rain was recorded in the area.

“We’ll have to run our numbers, but before it comes back into prescription we’ll probably be into the summer season and we just can’t do prescribed fires in the summer,” said Dave Smith, a fire and vegetation specialist with Parks Canada. 

“We don’t burn unless we are in prescription.”

Every prescribed fire has a prescription or a strict set of conditions that have to be fulfilled before ignition can take place. Those conditions include everything from defining the boundary of the fire, to where to place fireguards, to what the fuel or flammable vegetation is like.

Other factors include the weather, moisture levels, humidity levels, wind direction and speed, terrain, as well as the atmosphere for proper smoke ventilation and fire behaviour.

Smith said it’s not unusual to have to wait for the right conditions.

In 2015 Parks Canada carried out the Vine Creek prescribed fire after waiting eight years for the right conditions.

“Being in prescription is how we have successful burns. If we were to try and burn when we’re not in prescription we might find ourselves with too much fire behaviour or not enough fire behaviour.”

The other prescribed fire that crews have been preparing for is near Patricia Lake, one of six prescribed fires that will eventually be burned on Pyramid Bench.

“That prescribed burn unit is very complex and we have to make sure we are in prescription 100 per cent,” said Smith. “We got very close and then the weather changed.”

He said there’s still a chance the planned fires could go ahead, but his confidence that they can get them done before the summer wildfire season begins is waning.

“We continue to have guarded optimism, but as we get closer and closer to June we get closer to the wildfire season which takes us out of the prescribed burn season,” said Smith.

With June quickly approaching, he said Jasper is well positioned to protect itself from a wildfire thanks to an extensive network of fireguards around the community.

“We did a bunch of maintenance this winter and cleaned up a couple of places and we will continue to do that throughout the future,” said Smith. “We sit in a good position.”

That being said, he reiterated that more can be done by residents in town by eliminating fuel in and around their property.

A new report from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction found the wildfire that devastated Fort McMurray in 2016 was largely driven by floating embers falling on combustible material around homes.

“What they found was that most of the fire didn’t start by fire coming out of the woods into people’s backyards, but rather from fire brands or burning embers that were pushed aloft by a wildfire and landing in people’s backyards,” said Smith.

“It reinforces the importance of keeping a clean backyard.”

To help residents firesmart their property Smith said Parks Canada in conjunction with the Jasper Volunteer Fire Department are offering to visit homes to conduct a free firesmart hazard assessment.

To make an appointment contact the Jasper Fire Department at 780-852-1591 or 780-852-1595.

Paul Clarke

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