The outlook for wildfires this spring in British Columbia

BC Wildfire Service is expecting average wildfire activity this spring

BC Spring Wildfire Outlook
British Columbia Wildfire Service

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.

Satellite photo British Columbia April 15, 2020
Satellite photo of British Columbia at 9 a.m. PDT April 15, 2020. NOAA.

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.

largest wildfires British Columbia 2012 - 2017
The ten largest wildfires in British Columbia, from 2012 through 2017. BC Wildfire Service.

Alberta to hire 200 additional wildland firefighters

The government will also fund $20 million in community FireSmart initiatives to prepare for fire season during COVID-19

firefighters Chuckegg Creek Fire
File photo of firefighters on the Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta, May 27, 2019. The fire burned more than half a million acres. Photo: Alberta Wildfire.

Alberta Wildfire is hiring 200 additional firefighters, invoking a fire ban, implementing off-highway vehicle restrictions, increasing fine violations, and funding $20 million more in community FireSmart initiatives, all to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season during COVID-19.

Alberta Parks is also instituting a fire ban in all provincial parks and protected areas.

Alberta Wildfire said these early preparedness measures will ensure the province can effectively focus resources where they are needed most in the event of multiple emergencies happening at the same time.

Typically, the wildfire hazard is highest in Alberta in late April through May, when trees and shrubs have extremely low moisture content after the snow has melted.

More than a million acres burned last year and 71 per cent of wildfires were human-caused and entirely preventable. With provincial resources currently stretched due to COVID-19, these preventative measures will better equip Alberta’s response to spring wildfires this year.

Increased firefighting resources
An additional $5 million investment is being made to hire and train 200 firefighters to assist with provincial wildfire suppression this season.

More than 800 seasonal firefighters will join 370 year-round staff at Alberta Wildfire. These resources are hired at one of the 10 Forest Areas, and are moved throughout the Forest Protection Area as required.

Conversely, the five federal United States agencies with wildfire responsibilities have not announced any major new initiatives that would significantly increase the number of firefighting or fire prevention resources.

U.S. and Canada send additional firefighters to Australia

Canadian fire authorities expect to have 87 firefighters in Australia by January 4

BLM fire employees en route Australia
18  BLM fire management employees were en route to Australia January 1, 2020. Photo via @BLMUtah.

UPDATED at 10:15 a.m. PST January 2, 2020

As we learn about other firefighters from North America traveling to Australia, we will post the information here.

Canadian firefighters Australia
Wildfire personnel from Canada arrived in Brisbane, Australia December 31, 2019. Photo by Canada Down Under.

Originally published at 3:07 p.m. PST January 2, 2020.

Both the United States and Canada have sent additional firefighters to assist with wildfires in Australia after the first wave of 42 arrived down under around December 5, 2019. Another 40 or so arrived before Christmas and both countries are now working out the logistics to deploy more personnel.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise announced on their Situation Report December 27 that a total of 32 fire personnel had been deployed to Australia from the United States.

From, December 30, 2019:

Stephen Tulle, duty officer with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, said a group of 15 set out for Queensland Monday, while another 21 will fly out later in the week.

The contingent of Canadian wildfire specialists stationed in Queensland and New South Wales will reach 87 by Jan. 4, he said.

This is the first time Canada has made a co-ordinated effort to send firefighters to Australia, although crews from Down Under have visited here and were vital in helping British Columbia handle widespread wildfires in 2017 and 2018, Tulle said.

Canadian firefighters AustraliaOn December 31, 2019 Andrew Crisp of the Victoria Emergency Management Commission in Australia, said they have ordered additional fire aviation specialists from US and Canada, and firefighters “who can work in remote and arduous conditions”.

The U.S. is putting together another wave. On December 31 a 20-person hand crew was being assembled on the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. Other firefighters from the U.S. may also be deployed. We will update this article as additional information becomes available.

U.S. and Canada send firefighters to Australia

A total of 42 firefighters from North America will be assisting with the suppression of bushfires

Canadian fire management personnel Australia
21 Canadian fire management personnel received a warm welcome at the Sydney airport December 5  from @NSWRFS, @AFACnews, and @canadadownunder. These personnel from Parks, ON, MB, SK, AB & BC, are expected to return to Canada in early January. CIFFC photo.

Australia has just moved into their summer, but firefighters in New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria have been dealing with exceptionally large numbers of massive bushfires for weeks.

Canada and the United States are each sending 21 firefighters down under to assist their Australian brothers and sisters.

The U.S. personnel will  be representing the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service. The employees are coming from Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Virginia.

The U.S. firefighters departed from the San Francisco International
Airport on Thursday, December 5. The Canadians arrived in Sydney December 5.

This is the first time Canadian firefighters have been deployed to Australia under the Exchange of Wildland Fire Management Resources Agreement.

The last fire assistance between the U.S and Australia was in August of 2018 when 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel worked in the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California and the Northwest. The personnel from the Southern Hemisphere filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, helicopter operations, and structure protection.

The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.

British Columbia initiates wildland firefighter health research

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.

Physical fitness test for wildland firefighters used in Alberta, Canada

This video shows the physical fitness test, WFX-FIT, used to evaluate wildland firefighters in Alberta, Canada.

The Pack Test version of the Work Capacity Test and the Step Test used by the Federal agencies in the United States basically measure how fast you can walk and how low you can keep your pulse rate, respectively. The Step Test was replaced by the Work Capacity Test.

The WFX-FIT used in some areas of Canada, which first saw widespread use in 2012, is described as “a valid job-related physical performance standard used to determine whether an individual possesses the physical capabilities necessary to meet the rigorous demands encountered while fighting wildland fires.” Here is a link to more information about the test.

Your thoughts on the WFX-FIT test?