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Parks on Fire

Less Fuel for the Fire

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Audio Podcast 4: Less Fuel for the Fire

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir

Hi, I’m Kim Weir, and this is Parks on Fire. Episode 4: Less fuel for the fire 

Jasper is a small town in the middle of a huge forest that carpets the valley bottoms of the park. Old photographs of this area show half the trees that are here now. Fire suppression has allowed the forest to encroach down-slope into valleys that were once grasslands and brush ecosystems.

Parks Canada’s Fire and Vegetation specialist Alan Westhaver explains.

Alan Westhaver:
Fire-Vegetation Specialist


The ecological issues come about in two different ways, there are two processes that go on in the absence of fire in ecosystems. And one of those is the process that the forest keeps continually getting denser and denser as new trees grow up and mature and grow under the existing canopy - that’s one process that fuel begins to accumulate. The other one is that our open grasslands and forests that were once very open are invaded by woody vegetation. Those unique habitats are lost because of the advancing forest.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


Parks Canada fire managers must protect people, property, and neighbouring lands from wildfire. We often use prescribed fire a tool to remove the build-up of fuel and to restore ecosystems. However, this tool cannot easily be used in areas to town.

Alan Westhaver and Town of Jasper’s fire chief Greg VanTighem talk about our situation.

Alan Westhaver:
Fire-Vegetation Specialist
and
Greg VanTighem:
Fire Chief for Jasper Fire Department


The wildland-urban interface is an area where human structures and buildings are either intermixed or surrounded by natural vegetation. Jasper’s a great example of that. We have many developments where there is an intermingling of buildings and natural forest cover, or there’s a strong boundary between wildland fuels and homes.

Ya, and there are a lot of instances where people are living in the interface and it’s not only the community of Jasper but there are outlying areas, too. And there are areas like that throughout the whole country. And it’s interesting because human nature - people tend to want to live in the middle of the forest. They want to have that view of the trees and have the wildness around them. But somehow we have to find a balance where they can live safely in that environment and still enjoy everything they enjoy about it.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir

 
So what can we do to reduce our risk in the wildland-urban interface?

Alan Westhaver:
Fire-Vegetation Specialist

The FireSmart program is targeted at the area where structures and wildland vegetation merge together. So it’s all about reducing the risk of wildfire losses in our community. And managing the fuel is one of the options that can be done to achieve that goal.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


In national parks, we have high standards. We are not just “firesmart”, but “forestwise.” Our program tries to mimic the way fire shapes the landscape using techniques that have minimal risk for the town site and outlying communities.

Alan Westhaver:
Fire-Vegetation Specialist

We knew that FireSmart, or just thinning the trees, could be done in a better way. We were convinced that it could be done better and that we actually have an obligation to develop some ecologically-based rules for implementing fuel management.

Over the course of the several winters that we’ve been working on this contract, we’ve employed our own crews, and also contractors that have been able to use very low impact machinery that allows us to move through the woods and in some cases salvage that wood where it’s accessible. In other cases, it’s less accessible and we burn that wood – piled it and burned it carefully – which allows those nutrients to be recycled and redistributed back into the ecosystem.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


Parks Canada and local governments have been working to reduce our risk. What can you do?

Alan Westhaver:
Fire-Vegetation Specialist
and
Greg VanTighem:
Fire Chief for Jasper Fire Department


One of the key things that people need to do is look at their own landscaping and the vegetation surrounding their homes. And to break up that continuity of fuel in their yard so that there is a space between vegetation that could be ignited, and their own homes. And in some cases that means either reducing or removing some of that fuel.

Another thing that people can do too, is look at ways to modify or improve some of the construction features of their homes. Particularly outside features – things like covering in eaves and changing your roofing material to something that’s not so combustible. Or dealing with the build-up of needles and leaves and whatnot in your eaves. All those things play a big role when there are those embers being transplanted, you know, kilometers ahead of a wildfire.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


The actions of home and business owners are essential to becoming a FireSmart community.

Greg VanTighem:
Fire Chief for Jasper Fire Department


I think people really need to realize that any community in this country (in the wildland-urban interface) - a major wildfire event will quickly overwhelm the response agencies capabilities, whether it be in a national park or in a small community outside in the province. So, what the poeple do in their own backyards is crucial to keeping them safe and keeping the community safe. The fire departments and the wildland firefighters can’t be everywhere and they can’t do everything so people have to take the responsibility to take care of their own backyards.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Kim Weir


You’ve been listening to Parks on Fire, a podcast developed by Parks Canada’s Fire Management Team.

Narrator:
This audio program was a production of Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada responsible for Canada’s national parks, national marine conservation areas and many of Canada’s national historic sites. To learn more about Parks Canada, to download more podcasts and to find accessible transcripts of our podcasts please visit the Parks Canada website at www.parkscanada.gc.ca.

The contents of this audio file are the copyright of Parks Canada 2011. This podcast series is also available in French on i-Tunes as well as the Parks Canada’s website. Ce balado est également disponible en français sur i-Tunes de même que le site web de Parcs Canada. Thanks for listening.