Rain forecast for western Canada

Western Canadian communities and firefighters may catch a welcome break next week with a forecast for precipitation — perhaps a good amount. Over the next week, areas along the Canadian Rockies may receive more than 100 mm (3.9 inches) while the Alberta-Saskatchewan border area may receive 20 mm (less than an inch), with soil moisture predicted to rise throughout the fire-impacted areas. This will likely slow fire spread and smoke volume, though fires at such scale will continue to produce smoke. An overall increase in humidity should lower fire danger.

The western provinces have experienced weeks of active fire behavior and growth, with an intensity comparable to that seen in the 2016 fires that burned Fort McMurray, Alberta and the heat domes and fires of 2021, when fires burned Lytton, British Columbia.

Precipitation forecasts from the National Center for Environmental Prediction

Phys.org reported that some 2,500 firefighters from across Canada backed by 400 military personnel have been deployed across Alberta and that more foreign help has been requested — with crews and incident management teams from the United States, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand.

At one point nearly 30,000 Alberta residents were evacuated from their homes. Hazardous air quality and low visibility due to smoke were reported from British Columbia to Saskatchewan and as far south as Colorado and northern Texas.

PM2.5 average05/21 map
PM2.5 average
05/21 map

Situation Reports – National

The home page of the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System features maps of weather, fire behavior, and hot spots.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center Situation Report for May 20 indicated area burned to-date of 2.1 million hectares (nearly 5.2 million acres), with 15 new fires for a total of 226 currently active fires. Of those fires, 90 are identified as out of control. Canada is in its tenth day at its highest preparedness level of 5.

Situation Reports – Provinces with highest fire activity

Climate Change and Fire

In the Climate Atlas of Canada, an article on “Forest Fires and Climate Change” examines the impacts of climate change on Canadian fires and summarizes studies by Mike Flannigan and other scientists who predict that by 2100, western Canada will see a 50 percent increase in the number of dry, windy days that let fires start and spread, whereas eastern Canada will see an even more dramatic 200 percent to 300 percent increase in this kind of fire weather.  And by 2040, fire management costs are expected to double.

Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, explores the impact in more detail on his website. “Fire is the major stand-renewing agent for much of the Canadian forest,” he says, “greatly influencing forest structure and function.”

The research he summarized indicates that the observed increases in area burned in Canada during the last four decades is the result of human-induced climate change. Additionally, he says it appears that temperature is the most important predictor of area burned in Canada with warmer temperatures associated with increased area burned.

Based on a 2005 analysis, Flannigan says current estimates are that an average of over 2 million hectares burn annually in Canada. Just shy of the third week of May, Canada has already recorded 2.1 million hectares burned.

Alberta fires evacuate thousands

UPDATE 05/06/2023:   Three wildfires burning near the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta have forced evacuation orders and an alert. Two of the fires are in the Peace River region, including the Red Creek Fire, covering 1,550 hectares (3,830 acres) northwest of Fort St. John, B.C., about 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) northeast of Vancouver.

CBC Canada reported that the evacuation order covers 61 homes in the area; Goodlow, B.C., and the surrounding region are also under evacuation orders ahead of the Boundary Lake Fire, which covers an area of 19 square kilometres (~4700 acres).

 Boundary Lake Fire in the Prince George Fire Centre. (B.C. Wildfire Service)
 Boundary Lake Fire in the Prince George Fire Centre. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Dozens of new wildfires were discovered across Alberta on Thursday amid high temperatures, dangerously dry conditions, and high winds. More than 10,000 people across Alberta are now affected by mandatory evacuation orders, according to a Global News Canada report.

Fire officials updated many Alberta Emergency Alerts throughout the day as the fires grew and threatened more properties.

An evening update from Alberta Wildfire said there were 72 active wildfires across the province — but in the hours after that bulletin, even more fires showed up on the government agency’s live dashboard. As of 11 p.m, it showed 79 fires, with 19 out of control; 25 were caused by humans, five by lightning — and the rest were still under investigation.

CBC Canada reported that one out-of-control fire has forced the evacuation of thousands of people from Drayton Valley and Brazeau County in west-central Alberta.

“Bring important documents, medication, food, water and supplies for at least three days,” town officials told 7,200 residents on its Facebook page late Thursday. “Take pets with you.”

The City of Edmonton has set up a reception centre for evacuees at the Expo

B.C. Wildfire Service mobile app
B.C. Wildfire Service mobile app — find it on the App Store or Google Play.

Centre in Edmonton. Bart Guyon of Brazeau County has been coordinating with the area’s fire chief to ensure county residents have the latest information and are able to evacuate swiftly. “It’s kind of like waking up in the middle of a nightmare,” Guyon said.

“Tactical evacuations are being done. This wildfire primarily affects oil and gas industry, but anyone within the area must evacuate,” the emergency alert said.

The evacuations in Brazeau County and Drayton Valley are the latest developments in a week that has seen a series of wildfires across central and northern Alberta. Many are burning out of control in hot, dry and windy conditions.

On Thursday, the fire in the Fox Lake area forced thousands of people from their homes. According to an update from Alberta Wildfire on Thursday afternoon, the wildfire covers about 4,400 hectares (~11,000 acres). Alberta Wildfire has forest area updates and fire data online, with maps and annual statistics on its Wildfire Status Dashboard website.

Alberta donates engines and ambulances to Mexico

Drove in a long convoy to Mazatlan

Canada gives engines ambulances to Mexico
Canadian engines and ambulances on their way from Alberta to be given to Mexico. Photo by Steve Holder, November 4, 2022.

During his annual southward migration, Steve Holder encountered a line of engines and ambulances at the US/Mexico border:

On the drive into Mexico today we stopped for our visitor visa and saw this long line of engines and ambulances. The Rotary Club from Grand Prairie, Alberta is taking them to Mazatlan where they will be distributed to areas of greatest need. These rigs are packed with lots of fire gear. Bunch of great Canadians doing good things- they seemed to be having fun!

Canada gives engines ambulances to Mexico
Canadian engines and ambulances on their way from Alberta to be given to Mexico. Photo by Steve Holder, November 4, 2022.
Canada gives engines ambulances to Mexico
Canadian engines and ambulances on their way from Alberta to be given to Mexico. Photo by Steve Holder, November 4, 2022.

Thank you Steve!

Parks Fire burns from Washington into British Columbia

Multiple fires close to the Pacific Crest Trail lead to closure of its northern terminus

2:10 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2022

Parks Fire map Washington British Columbia
Parks Fire map 3:02 a.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2022.

The spread of numerous fires have led to the closure of the northernmost portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) including its terminus at the Canadian border. Most northbound hikers finish in August or September, so it is likely that quite a few will be devastated that they can’t complete the entire 2,650-mile journey.

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest posted the following message on Facebook September 1:

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Closure:
Due to increased fire activity and growth, the Kid Fire is now about three miles from the PCT. With the Red Flag Warning in effect through tomorrow evening, we have closed the northern section of the PCT from Holman Pass North (at the junction with Trail #752 and Trail #472.1) to the Canadian Border. Wilderness Rangers are on the PCT near Hopkins Lake basin and Forest Service staff at Harts Pass Guard Station are helping direct hikers and providing information. There is no re-route at this time. Please stay tuned for more information.

Since that message was posted the Parks Fire has grown very rapidly into Canada. We were unable to find any public details posted by the US Forest Service about it and other fires in the area, but we estimate it has burned at least 5,000 acres. It is the largest near the northern terminus of the PCT between mileposts 2,637 and 2,652. To the west are the Three Fools, Skagit, Elbow, and Shull Creek Fires. The Parks and Kid Fires are east of the trail.

We have counted 9 fires in Washington that are within 11 miles of the international border.

Parks Fire Washington and British Columbia
Parks Fire. Posted Sept. 2 by USFS.

The Parks Fire has spread four miles north of the border and early Saturday morning was a mile or two east of Manning Park, BC just south of BC Highway 3.

None of these fires, including the 5,000+ acre Parks Fire, were listed on Inciweb, the National Situation Report, or the Northwest Geographic Area’s public Morning Brief or Detailed Situation Report when we published this article just after 2 p.m. PDT Sept. 3, 2022.

Fires near the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail,
Fires near the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, September 3, 2022. The purple line is the PCT.

Making a decision about a proposed planned ignition on a wildfire

How it was done on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia

Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia
Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia. Photo: BC Wildfire Service.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service (BCWS) has been working to contain the 4,230-acre Connell Ridge Fire 14 miles south of Cranbrook since it was reported August 1. It was likely started by lightning.

Crews had already completed burnouts (or planned ignitions) on the south flank and southeast corner but on August 19 a decision had to be made about whether to conduct an additional burnout on the southwest side. After a test burn, the Incident Management Team decided not to conduct the burnout.

Map of the Connell Ridge Fire, Aug. 21,1 2022
Map of the Connell Ridge Fire, Aug. 21,1 2022. BCWS.

The BCWS created the explanatory article and illustrations, below, about some of the considerations and steps taken as the decision was being made. It is rather extraordinary for a land management agency, at least in the United States, to provide this degree of transparency and detail about how a suppression decision was made. This could serve as an example for others to follow, especially when “big box” strategies are used that result in burning thousands of acres of green vegetation, too often with insufficient thought about ignition tactics, second order results, air quality, and long term fire effects.

The article below uses the term “guard” in the first paragraph which I believe in this context refers to a completed control line intended to stop the spread of the fire.

Information Officers on Type 1 Incident Management Teams should be capable of creating valuable content like this:

August 21, 2022

Test ignitions were conducted on the morning of August 19, 2022 on the Connell Ridge (N10989) wildfire, in anticipation of implementing planned ignition operations on the southwest corner. These test ignitions allow our crews and operational staff to determine if the unburnt fuels between the fire perimeter and the guard will be receptive to burning.

The area that the small-scale ignition was planned for is in steep terrain where the fire has been naturally burning in a patchy manner as the fire finds drier fuels that are able to ignite. This means there is a lot of unburnt, greener fuel within this area, between the free burning fires edge and the established control lines.

Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia.
Evaluating a possible planned ignition on the Connell Ridge Fire in British Columbia. Photos: BC Wildfire Service.

The purpose of the planned ignition for this area was to remove that unburnt fuel in an intentional way to secure the control line and achieve containment on the southwest ridge of the fire. This unburnt fuel has the potential to burn on it’s own as these greener fuels continue to dry under the hot and dry weather conditions. While the shorter term forecast for the complex shows patches of precipitation, the precipitation will be minimal and is not guaranteed to fall on the fires. With the longer-term forecast returning to a warming and drying trend early next week, these drying green fuels that may not have seen any additional moisture will continue to dry.

Planned ignitions are a very useful tactic in fire suppression and fire management and are often the safer and more efficient operational tactic. It allows us to bring the fire perimeter down to control lines and creates a more uniform and continuous fire edge which is easier for crews to use direct attack methods on and extinguish hot spots to strengthen control lines and achieve containment. This is also more time-efficient and safer for the crews as they have to spend less time chasing hot spots and patches of free burning fire in rough terrain.

Based on test ignitions on August 19 it was determined that the unburnt fuels would not burn in a way that contributes to the strengthening of the existing control line. This means it will take longer to secure this portion of the fire as crews will now need to focus on targeting the patches and hotspots for extinguishment in order to secure this area of the fire.

The Incident Management Team on the Connell Ridge Fire is also working on the Weasel Creek Fire (N11062) and the Cummings Creek Fire (N11051).

Single engine air tanker makes forced landing in British Columbia

Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022 forced landing air tanker
Connell Ridge Fire map, August 3, 2022

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

A single engine amphibious air tanker made a forced landing Tuesday while working on a wildfire in British Columbia.

“This evening a Conair 802 Air Tractor Fireboss Skimmer aircraft experienced an engine failure during operations on the Connell Ridge Wildfire, near Cranbrook,” said BC Wildfire Service Executive Director Ian Meier. “The pilot conducted a successful forced landing and was transported to receive medical assessment. Our thoughts are with the pilot involved in this incident as well as their family, friends and colleagues. The BC Wildfire Service is providing all possible assistance to the pilot and Conair.”

Jeff Berry, Director of Business Development with Conair Aerial Firefighting confirmed the pilot was able to walk away unharmed from the aircraft to a helicopter and was transported to Cranbrook for assessment by paramedics.

“His skill and training as an aerial firefighting pilot under challenging circumstances enabled him to execute an exceptional emergency maneuver resulting in a safe outcome,” said Berry. “He was faced with a problem with the engine, he went through his emergency procedures, and put the aircraft down in such a way that he was able to walk away unharmed. Faced with a difficult bunch of decisions in a very, very short period, he did exceptionally well.”

The Connell Ridge Fire 14 miles south Cranbrook, BC has burned approximately 1,235 acres  (500 hectares) since it was discovered August 1, 2022.

File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.
File photo of an Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss operated by Conair. Not necessarily the aircraft involved in the incident.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Mike.