When wildfire escapes into the wildlands-urban interface, homes, industrial facilities, and other urban values can be threatened or destroyed. As recommended by the FireSmart Canada program, vegetation management is a key principle in mitigating the risk of wildfire affecting urban values. In 2007, at a forested test site in the Northwest Territories, Canada, FPInnovations evaluated the effectiveness of using vegetation management- i.e., removal and reduction of forest fuels from the vicinity of a small building- as a strategy for protecting the building from wildfire.
Forest fuels engineering is one of the primary wildfire mitigation strategies advocated by FireSmart™ Canada and applied by partnering wildfire management agencies and industry operators. Fuel treatments have been extensively applied in and around communities in the wildland-urban interface, through a broad range of fuel modification techniques. A primary objective of fuel treatments is to modify fire behaviour to a ‘less difficult, disruptive, and destructive’ state (Reinhardt et al. 2008) which can allow for safer, more effective fire suppression operations (Moghaddas and Craggs 2007).
Black spruce is one of the most prevalent fuel types surrounding communities in central and northern Alberta, as well as other parts of boreal Canada. The densely stocked black spruce forest stands in the Red Earth Creek FireSmart research area exhibit typical crown fuel properties of black spruce: high crown bulk density and low crown base height, which contribute to crown fire initiation (Van Wagner 1977). These fuel characteristics, combined with low fuel moisture contents and strong winds, create ideal conditions for high-intensity, rapidly-spreading catastrophic wildfire (Flat Top Complex Wildfire Review Committee 2012).
Mulch fuel treatments use various types of equipment to masticate forest vegetation resulting in a reduction in crown bulk density and the conversion of canopy and ladder fuels to a more compacted and less available fuel source in the surface layer (Battaglia et al. 2010). Mulch thinning and strip mulch treatments create a more open surface fuel environment with both negative and positive impacts. Due to increased exposure to sun and wind flow, the chipped debris and other surface fuels in the open areas of the treatments dry more quickly than fine fuels in enclosed stands (Schiks and Wotton 2015). From a control perspective, the open thinned areas of the treatments allow more effective penetration of water/suppressant through canopy fuels to surface fuels (Hsieh in progress). Additionally, fine fuels at the surface of openings respond more quickly to water and suppressant application. Open areas of the treatments that have been wetted by sprinkler systems or aerial water delivery should reduce the potential for ignition and sustained burning, providing a potential barrier to fire spread.
Experimental crown fires have been conducted to challenge fuels treatments in other forest fuel types (Schroeder 2010, Mooney 2013) to evaluate the efficacy of these treatments in moderating fire behaviour. Mechanical (shearblading) fuel treatments in black spruce fuels (Butler et al. 2013) have been shown to reduce fire intensity. However, documentation of crown fire challenging mulch fuel treatments in black spruce fuels is limited. Fire and fuels managers would like to evaluate the effectiveness of mulch fuel treatments in reducing fire intensity and rate of spread and, ultimately, their ability to mitigate wildfire risk to communities surrounding these hazardous fuels.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) Wildfire Management Branch fuels managers designed the Red Earth Creek FireSmart research area with the objective of conducting research that will lead to a better understanding of mulch fuel treatments and how these changes in the black spruce fuel environment affect fire behaviour. On May 14, 2015, Slave Lake Forest Area personnel conducted an experimental fire at this site; FPInnovations and research partners collected data to document changes in fire behaviour.
Reducing risk of loss due to wildfire is enhanced when forest fuels surrounding communities and individual structures are properly managed and are a part of the FireSmart concept. This report describes two test burns where a crown fire was burned into a fuel-managed plot following FireSmart guidelines (Partners in Protection 2003). In both cases the crown fire changed to a surface fire as the fire passed into the fuel-managed plots.
Fuel management, including thinning, is an important issue for communities and resource users striving to protect their values. Thinning reduces fuel loading in the overstorey and can lower the likelihood of a sustained crown fire. However, surface fuel loading can increase in thinned stands as a result of harvesting, and could adversely affect fire behaviour likelihood of sustained ignition. This report describes tests that were done to measure the probability of sustained ignition for thinned lodgepole pine stands where surface fuels, including logging slash, were left in place, and for stands where surface fuels were removed by piling and burning.
Forest companies in Canada frequently store large quantities of logs in permanent or temporary yards. Protecting these logs from fire is important because they represent a significant financial investment and are critical inventory for mills. The best practices contained within this report emerged from FPInnovations’ ongoing efforts to find solutions for protecting stored logs from fire.
The Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) researched new methods of producing smoke for use in the training and testing of Alberta's fire lookout personnel. Because Alberta's goal is to have fires detected before they exceed 0.1 ha, two test burns were also done to see if documenting smoke from 0.1 ha fires could help train lookouts.