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Prescribed fire experience

It's been an interesting week at work. After a couple years of justification, preparation and waiting on favourable weather conditions, we were finally ready to begin an experimental burn within our National Park. Wildland fires behave differently in different habitats, based upon the composition of plants and such (in addition to weather and the like), and modelling or predicting how intensely a wild fire will burn and how fast it will spread depend heavily on understanding how fire behaves in those habitats (or fuel types). A fair portion of our park, and the province as a whole, contains a fuel type which has not been modelled, called Nova Scotia Special; it's a mix of ericacious shrubs (e.g. rhodora, lowbush blueberry, kalmia, huckleberry, etc), stunted coniferous trees (e.g. white spruce, black spruce, larch), and reindeer lichens. In 2012 we had a small fire start in the park in this fuel type, which spurred the need to develop a model to predict how fire will behave within it; having no model made predicting how the fire would spread resulted in uncertainty of the fire's behaviour, which impacts both fire fighter safety and the safety of nearby towns, etc.

So, with no real data available to generate a model, we proposed a project to burn a small amount of this habitat type under controlled conditions and gather data on rates of spread, flame lengths and intensity, and the after-fire effects, such as amount burned and how deeply the soil burned.

All in all, the experimental burns were a success. We couldn't burn on the second day, due to unsafe winds, but we collected good data on days 1 and 3. I was part of the data collection team on the first day, and on the fire suppression team on the third day. Day 2, in the down time, I collected material to determine fuel moisture levels pre-burn.

It was certainly an educational experience. While I've been trained in basic and intermediate wildfire control, I hadn't really been on a fire before, so this gave me some on-the-ground experience and visuals of what different rates of spread actually look and feel like. It was also an interesting education in how inter-departmental cooperations work, as this was a joint project between Parks Canada (both the local Park, and national office), Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and the municipal organizations. It was fantastic to share knowledge and experience.

The burn was pretty disruptive to our normal work, however. This spring has been very rushed due to long-lasting snow in the Highlands; much of our work this time of year can't begin until ice and snow have departed, so multiple time-sensitive projects have been shifted and had to be done all at once... and the fire pushed some of that aside again. We're in a bit of a scramble to get our work done... but I'm sure we'll manage it all!

3 blog comments below

Prescribed fires are regular events in South Africa, but now for the first time I got some insight in what is going on with the planning of it. Great article thanks Ankhanu. Cool

What I remember most of all is when those fires were close to the main road and visibility issues with driving. So I imagine planning probably takes that into consideration as well?
deanhills on Sat Jun 14, 2014 8:40 pm
Yes, planning takes into account the various impacts of the fire, from dangers of escapement, effects of erosion due to suppression, possibility of fuel spills, through to the amount of smoke and where it will move.

The fires in South Africa are likely not for the same reasons that our fire was conducted. Our burns were expressly for experiment and data collection... they're a little bit unusual in the scope of prescribed fire efforts in general. Many fires are planned for other reasons, such as ecosystem maintenance, vegetation control, etc. Most prescribed fires out in western Canada, for example, are set to help maintain naturally healthy forests. The natural disturbance regimes in those forests are heavily influenced by frequent fire, which controls understory vegetation and can influence overstory tree reproduction (some pine species cones, for example, only open to drop their seeds if they've been exposed to fire). The past century of fire control has taken an approach that fire is bad, and all fires have been put out, and generally avoided... as a result, these fire-dependent ecosystems have gotten all out of whack. Alternatively, some historic sites with buried sites/artefacts may use fire to protect these resources that may be damaged by growing roots before they're even discovered. Fire can be used for all kinds of different reasons, and I'd suspect the ones you see in SA are more for ecosystem maintenance.
Ankhanu on Sat Jun 14, 2014 9:46 pm
You are so correct about fire dependent ecosystems. In the US, they have so screwed that up so when a fire does go - it becomes HUGE and out of any chance of control. I wonder if they will fver understand the problem.
BTW: great pictures!
standready on Sun Jun 15, 2014 12:36 am

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