Homes in community threatened by wildfire in Alberta are dangerously close together

In some areas the homes in High Level, Alberta are closer than the homes were in Paradise, California before the Camp Fire of November, 2018.

housing density High Level, Alberta Chuckegg Creek Fire
Satellite photo showing housing density in High Level, Alberta, which is threatened by the Chuckegg Creek fire. Note the graphic scale at bottom-left. The spacing between some of the homes is about 10 feet. Photo from Google Earth dated Sept. 19, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The entire town of High Level, Alberta is being evacuated today, May 20, 2019. If the Chuckegg Creek Fire burns close to or into the town while pushed by a strong wind, it could be a repeat of the nightmare scenario we saw last November in Paradise, California when the Camp Fire spread from house to house.

Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire
Map of the Chuckegg Creek HWF042 wildfire southwest of High Level, Alberta at 5:18 a.m. CDT May 20, 2019.

Monday at 3:12 p.m. MDT the Chuckegg Fire was about four miles southwest of High Level. Moderate or strong winds are expected to push the head of the fire toward the northwest  this week, but spread on the flanks will most likely cause it to move closer to the town at the same time. By the weekend the forecast calls for winds out of the west that would seriously increase the threat to the town unless the 64 firefighters assigned on the 170,000-acre fire can perform heroic measures to stop the fire in that area.

(To see all of the articles on Wildfire Today about the Chuckegg Fire, including the most recent, click here.)

In some neighborhoods in Paradise last Fall the homes were about 18 to 20 feet apart according to the measurements we took using Google Earth. In High Level, that separation distance is about half that — in some areas the homes are about 10 feet apart.

When one structure is ignited by a burning ember that may have traveled a quarter of a mile or more from a fire (or a burning home) the radiant heat alone can ignite the homes on both sides. Then you can have a self-powered conflagration spreading house to house through a city. When the structures are that close together, the homeowners have not reduced the fuel in the Home Ignition Zone, and the home itself is not built to FireWise standards, a massive disaster can be the result. A strong wind exacerbates the problem. In Paradise the wind kept much of the heat and the embers close to the ground, preheating fuels ahead. The canopies of some of the trees survived, but virtually nothing near the ground remained unburned.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

3 thoughts on “Homes in community threatened by wildfire in Alberta are dangerously close together”

  1. Just makes you wonder why ? and I mean Why do people who live in the forest not keep a defendable space around there home. They are told over and over again keep the brush and trees away form your home. Inspection after inspection and still they refuse to take care of the home by NOT keeping a defendable space around the home. 30-feet to mineral soil and 70 feet nothing over 17 inches. When the inspector comes around excuse after excuse why they could not get the work done. First big fire comes the house burns to the ground and the owner blames the fire department. BS forsure, don’t blame the fire department blame the home owner.

    1. I understand the frustration watching homes burn when a little work/upkeep could have prevented it. Fire is a large part of our day to day lives, but not for everyone. Some people have the ‘it won’t happen here’ attitude, or ‘I want to live in the woods, not cut down the reason I moved here down’ mentality. As frustrating as it is, we are still free people who make choices, some better than others, and frankly some just don’t care. I have been in fire since 2002 and have seen severe stubbornness, and I myself am stubborn. I used to live deep in the woods and had trees all the way up to my house, but the ground fuels were short for a ways. I knew exactly that my house could burn if the conditions were right…but I chose to live that way.
      As far as people blaming the fire department, that will never change. Most of the public praises us until they are adversely affected by fire. Lack of understanding is what I believe the main culprit to blame, and blame is part of the grieving process.

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