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.

Increased wildfire activity predicted for British Columbia and Yukon

Wildfire potential for North America May, June, July, 2019
Wildfire potential for North America May, June, July, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The Predictive Services section at the National Interagency Fire Center has predicted above normal wildfire activity  this summer for southern Arizona, areas of California, and western Oregon and Washington.

An outlook for North America released on Friday also shows enhanced potential for British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in June and July.

Below is an excerpt from the North American Seasonal Fire Assessment and Outlook prepared by NIFC, Natural Resources Canada, and Servicio Meteorológico Nacional.

“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.”

Wildfire potential for North America, May
Wildfire potential for North America, May 2019.
Wildfire potential for North America, June
Wildfire potential for North America, June 2019.
Wildfire potential for North America
Wildfire potential for North America, July 2019.

Plane crash kills three while mapping fires in B.C.

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.

Canada may launch satellite to monitor wildfires

WildFireSat
Screengrab from the Canadian Space Agency video below.

The Canadian Space Agency is considering launching a satellite that would monitor wildfires. The “WildFireSat” (WFS) would not detect them, but would monitor fire characteristics and emissions in support of international requirements for carbon reporting. The satellite would help to determine which sensors and frequency bands are most useful. Eventually this could develop into a constellation of satellites providing real-time coverage of wildfires not only in Canada but across the planet.

Below is an excerpt from the Notice of Proposed Procurement:

…It should be emphasized that WFS represents a wildfire monitoring capability and not a wildfire detection capability. A key mission objective of WFS is to monitor accurately the radiated power from wildfires to infer their characteristics and be able to improve fire management practices and report on carbon emission. The mission would confirm that the current selection of frequency bands and algorithms is adequate to retrieve fire characteristics with the desired accuracy.

As such, the WFS mission will serve as a stepping stone to accomplish the long-term objective of establishing a new, potentially commercial, fully operational 24/7 service in the future. WFS could help prepare the user community in Canada and possibly abroad, and thus create the customer-base that would be needed for a future global operational data service to be commercially viable.

British Columbia may expand firefighter occupational disease coverage to wildland firefighters

Minister calls firefighting dangerous, says it can have severe impacts to physical and mental health

Massachusetts firefighters British Columbia
Firefighters from Massachusetts board an aircraft on the way to the Elephant Hill Fire near Kamloops, British Columbia. Photo by Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation.

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.”

Firefighters meet at international border

The Horns Mountain / Santa Rosa Fire is burning in Washington and British Columbia

border canada united states firefighters horns mountain
Firefighters meet at the Canada / United States border while working on the Horns Mountain Fire. Canadians on the left and Americans on the right. Photo by Johnny Walker.

(Originally published at 4:15 p.m PDT August 28, 2018)

The 5,500-acre Horns Mountain Fire is burning in both Canada and the United States — Washington and British Columbia — east of  the Laurier Port of Entry border crossing. In Canada the fire is named Santa Rosa.

In the photo above firefighters from both countries had a good natured meeting at the international border. I would wager that the topics discussed did not include tariffs or trade agreements.

Due to numerous large fires in Washington and British Columbia, both sides experienced a shortage of resources. According to an update from the incident management team, “working together was a benefit to both”.

The fire is winding down thanks in part to favorable weather in the last few days. Some resources on both sides are being demobilized.

UPDATE: August 29, 2018: When we posted this on our Facebook page Eric Haberin wrote, “Very much West Side Story”. I found the fight scene on YouTube and got a screenshot:

fight scene in West Side Story
The Jets face off with the Sharks in West Side Story.

The big difference is that the firefighters are smiling.