Forecasts are showing that fire weather severity in the western provinces of Canada will be increasing in May, and by June will be in the Extreme category in large areas of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Northwest Territories.
Conditions in June and July are expected to be well above average, according to data from the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System provided by the Canadian Meteorological Centre, a branch of Environment Canada.
The British Columbia Wildfire Service is expecting a spring wildfire season that will be consistent with long-term patterns in the province, considering the current forecasts and fire activity levels. The outlook issued by the agency on April 9, 2020 does not predict wildfire activity in the summer of this year.
Statistics from the BC Wildfire Service for the six year period from 2012 through 2017 show that of the ten largest fires, six were discovered in July, and one each in April, May, June, and August.
Above: Firefighters in a smoky environment on the White Tail Fire, March 8, 2019, Black Hills National Forest.
Information from the British Columbia Wildfire Service:
VICTORIA – The BC Wildfire Service has provided $305,000 to help fund two research projects looking into the health and wellness of firefighters and associated personnel. The University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Alberta are conducting these studies to learn more about how firefighting activities affect the health of fire crews.
“Our firefighters have worked hard on the front lines to keep British Columbians safe during difficult and record-setting wildfire seasons,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “These studies will help us support their long-term health and well-being.”
Research by the University of Northern British Columbia is led by Chelsea Pelletier, PhD, who is an assistant professor with the School of Health Sciences at the University of Northern British Columbia.
A scoping review will:
Look holistically at the existing body of research and knowledge about wildland firefighter health and wellness (including its physical, mental and emotional dimensions) by conducting a global scan of the scientific literature;
Identify any modifications (based on the scientific literature and work done by wildfire management agencies elsewhere) that could be implemented in the short term to reduce potential health impacts; and
Identify any gaps in the work-related health knowledge of wildland firefighters and associated personnel.
The outcomes of this project and other information will help the BC Wildfire Service establish a long-term research strategy for worker health. This research is expected to be completed in the summer of 2020.
Research by the University of Alberta is led by Nicola Cherry, MD, PhD, who is the tripartite chair of occupational health with the Division of Preventive Medicine at the University of Alberta.
It is also supported by the Alberta government and aims to:
Examine the nature and concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the air that firefighters breathe and accumulate on their skin (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are a suite of organic compounds produced when organic material burns, some of which can be hazardous to human health);
Explore the practicality and effectiveness of firefighters using respiratory protective equipment; and
Investigate whether wildland firefighters have more chronic lung disease than other people of the same age, gender and geographic location.
So far, about 50 BC Wildfire Service firefighters have taken part in this study. Alberta firefighters are also participating. A progress report on the initial phase of this project should be released in March 2020.
“For May, recent climate model runs suggest Canada will have lower fire severity than normal. While an early start to warm and dry conditions is leaving much of British Columbia prone to fire starts, rainfall is likely in the last half of the month, which will likely result in normal monthly fire severity for the province. The latest climate model runs hint at continued blocking ridges in the eastern Pacific during June, resulting in warm and dry conditions and resulting elevated fire severity indexes in British Columbia and Yukon. This pattern often features the eastern side of the ridge over the Prairies, so western Alberta also appears prone to elevated fire risk, while conditions east of Alberta are likely to have normal values. July’s forecast is similar to June’s forecast, with elevated fire severity indexes expected throughout British Columbia, western Alberta, and southern Yukon. A slight difference exists as the Yukon area depicted covers only the southern part of the territory in July, while in June it extended north near the Arctic coast.”
A small plane checking a fire that burned last year crashed in British Columbia Saturday May 4 killing three occupants. The pilot of the single engine Cessna 182 and two passengers died in the accident while one passenger survived and is being treated after being flown to a Vancouver hospital by a Joint Rescue Coordination Centre helicopter.
Precision Vectors was under contract to the British Columbia Wildfire Service to use airborne infrared equipment to check fires from 2018 for residual holdover heat that persisted through the winter. Two of the deceased have been identified, both affiliated with the company — Lorne Borgal the CEO and founder of Precision Vectors, and Amir Ilya Sedghi who provided data analysis.
The Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the aircraft went down about 57 miles north of Smithers, B.C.
Our sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and coworkers.
The United States government does not have a presumptive disease policy for their 15,000 federal wildland firefighters, but British Columbia is seeking to expand their program.
From The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:
Firefighters who have battled British Columbia wildfires, fire investigators, and fire crews working for Indigenous groups will be eligible for greater access to job-related health compensation under legislation introduced Thursday.
Labour Minister Harry Bains tabled amendments to the Workers Compensation Act that extends occupational disease and mental health benefits to more people who work around fires.
The proposed changes will expand cancer, heart disease and mental health disorder presumptions to include the three other job categories, because Bains says those workers are often involved in the traumatic issues related to fires.
Presumptive illnesses faced by firefighters are recognized under the act as conditions caused by the nature of the work, rather than having firefighters prove their issue is job related to receive supports and benefits.
Bains says the government expanded the presumptive job-related conditions last year to include mental-health disorders for police officers, paramedics, sheriffs, correctional officers and most urban firefighters. He says firefighting is dangerous work that can have serious impacts on an individual’s physical and mental health.
“They will enjoy the same coverage as the other firefighters — the first responders — receive as part of giving them certain cancer protections, heart disease and injuries and mental health,” Bains said during a news conference after the legislation was introduced.
“These steps are very necessary to ensure our workplaces are the safest in the country.”