The City of Quesnel, B.C. has applied an innovative selective harvesting technique in a mature Douglas-fir forest stand with the objectives of maintaining biodiversity and reducing fuel-load buildup and consequent wildfire threat. FPInnovations researchers monitored and documented the harvesting operations and measured machine productivity to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the operation.
To support the assessment of fuel-load reduction, FPInnovations’ Wildfire Operations group conducted pre- and post-harvest fuel-sampling activities to evaluate changes in forest fuel components.
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.
This study investigated the effects of applying three mulch treatment intensities on fuel bed characteristics and the resultant fire behaviour. This is a companion report to a previously published report titled Mulching productivity in black spruce fuels: Productivity as a function of treatment intensity. The findings of these fire behaviour trials, in conjunction with productivity results, can assist fuel management practitioners in developing appropriate cost-effective mulching prescriptions.
Class A foam “lowers water’s surface tension making it more effective in suppressing fire in Class A combustibles (wood, vegetation, paper and cotton products and rubber)” (ICL Performance Products LP, n.d.). Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has used class A liquid foam and liquid foam inductor kits in wildfire suppression since the 1980s. Although class A liquid foam has proven to be an effective tool, promoting the consistent use of it in Alberta has been a challenge since its introduction. Firefighter reluctance to use class A foam is often linked to reasons such as set-up time, working with the foam solution, system awkwardness, and anecdotal comparisons to straight water.
Alberta’s Provincial Warehouse and Service Centre (PWSC) was approached by ICL Performance Products LP (ICL) regarding a new class A foam system, the Phos-Chek SOLID Foam Stick and Scotty Foam-Fast Applicator. The foam stick and applicator were promoted by ICL as a simple and effective way of producing low-expansion class A foam using minimal equipment. Following an ICL presentation to Alberta’s PWSC and Fireline Equipment Working Group (FEWG), a decision was made to pursue field trials before considering a large-scale purchase.
To facilitate field trials, the PWSC purchased several applicators and a supply of foam sticks with the intent of having their firefighters assess the system. Further discussion by the group identified a lack of consistent evaluation criteria and a need for documented, fact-based test results. In follow-up, the PWSC requested assistance from Alberta’s Wildfire Management Science and Technology (WMST) program to engage a research provider, and in March of 2015, they asked FPInnovations to conduct an evaluation of the Phos-Chek SOLID Foam Stick (formulation ID #049-019F) and the Scotty Foam-Fast Applicator (model 4010-50).
FPInnovations worked with the WMST program working group, PWSC manager, and designated FEWG members to review research questions, project needs and develop the following project objectives.
Data was collected within a burned out area on a steep mountain slope as part of FPInnovations’s Survival Zone project. The fire was a prescribed burn carried out by Parks Canada in Jasper National Park. The data collected shows that in this one instance, that temperatures and heat flux values fell within survivable range for firefighters wearing PPE. This report does not condone firefighters above a fire on a steep slope, but rather this PB was used as a data collecting opportunity.