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Parks on Fire

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke

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Audio Podcast 5: Where there's fire, there's smoke

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville
 
Hi, I’m Grant Neville, and this is Parks on Fire, Episode 5: Where there’s fire, there’s smoke.

In national parks, we constantly assess the important benefits of fire management against the risk of re-introducing fire to a landscape shared with people. Fire specialist Alan Westhaver tells us that frequent fire is critical to the ecology of this park, promoting the growth of herbs and grasses, as well as preventing trees, shrubs and non-native plants from invading.

Alan Westhaver:
Fire and Vegetation Specialist
 
We’ve lost between 60 and 75 percent of our grasslands, and virtually all of our open forests, to this problem of forest in-growth in the last 6 or 8 decades of fire suppression. That’s a radical change in our landscape. And you can look down on the valley and nowadays and see pretty well a wall to wall carpet of monoculture mature pine, spreading across the valley bottoms.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville


Despite the importance of fire, the smoke produced by wild and prescribed fires can affect communities. Compromised air quality can make it difficult for citizens to embrace the benefits of fire.

Kim Weir:
Personal smoke story


My name is Kim Weir and I’m the fire communications officer now with Jasper National Park. But back in 2003, I was just a concerned citizen. I remember back that year when we had all the smoke from all the wildfires out west, and it had quite an effect on my Dad. He was an asthmatic and he had had previous heart surgeries. And, well, let’s just say that the smoke put quite a crimp in his golf game that year. Sucking in that smoke, especially when his heart rate was elevated and he was maybe breathing a little bit harder, it just killed him. He just basically couldn’t do it. So that summer he got a lot less exercise than he normally would have and that probably wasn’t such a good thing.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville


Smoke can affect the local economy as well. Fire season is often the busiest time for local businesses.

Michal Wasuita:
Business owner/operator

Hello! My name is Michal Wasuita. I’m the owner/operator of the Pine Bungalow cabins here in Jasper National Park. We have 72 individual cabins. We’re out here alongside the heritage river – the Athabasca. What happens when we have forest fires or the valley fills up with smoke? So, I do lose some business because of that. People with allergic reactions, people with allergies, people who generally just don’t like smoke are the ones that will leave. But I look at it as an opportunity to educate these people, tell them what’s happening here in the valley, why we need fire… One of the real positives of it, is that the forests are so badly overgrown here, whenever I do see smoke or those kind of conditions, I think that’s great, that’s one less opportunity for the catastrophic fire to come through and wipe out our businesses here.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville


If smoke is an issue for communities, why do we do prescribed burns? The reason is that fires will occur whether we light them or not. Fires started by lightening or people in fire-repressed landscapes can burn big and be difficult to control. Fire specialist Alan Westhaver has experienced large-scale wildfires.

Alan Westhaver:
Fire Specialist 

So, we’d be looking at flame-lengths of two to three hundred feet above the treetops, a fire front that may extend for many kilometers, the fire moving ahead as a broad front topped by a convection column of, almost like a massive chimney of super heated air and gasses and embers rising up thirty or forty thousand feet, and raining embers down ahead of the fire starting small spot fires in any combustible material. And those spot fires growing together and kind of helping the head of the fire move across the landscape in the direction of the prevailing winds. So, a very impressive and unstoppable force.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville


By using prescribed burns and other techniques to reduce fuel loads, we have more control than if a large wildfire flares up on its own.

Alan Westhaver:
Fire Specialist 


Fire is inevitable - you know, sooner or later, these forests are going to burn. And prescribed burning gives us a number of different advantages. First of all, it allows us to choose the time and the location and the conditions that reduce the risk of that fire escaping, or threatening values that we don’t want be threatened. Secondly, by waiting for the prescribed conditions, we can also reduce the secondary impacts of smoke on populated areas.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville


Smoke from fire usually poses no immediate health concerns when air is well circulated. The effects of short-term smoke dissipate as the smoke goes away. However, if smoke affects your community, understand the potential risks and take action to protect yourself and loved ones.

Greg VanTighem:
Fire Chief - Jasper Fire Department


We have a great collaboration between the Parks Canada, the municipality as well as the regional health authority. And, in the case that there is smoke for whatever reason – and there are other reasons we get smoke in the valley, too, there could be fires burning west of us in British Columbia that produce large volumes of smoke in the Jasper valley, or it could be an actual wildfire in the park, it could be a prescribed burn, it could be us burning slash piles from the FireSmart project. What would happen is we would meet with the health officials and we would develop and design bulletins that would deal with any health concerns, if there were any. And it would advise people of the measures they should take.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville


Symptoms of smoke irritation include stinging eyes, a headache, scratchy throat, runny nose, and coughing.

Wen Li:
Public Health Inspector


My name is Wen Li. I am the public health inspector in Jasper. If smoke becomes dense and hazy, it can be a health concern to those exposed daily – especially for people with pre-existing health conditions.
Those most at risk are children, the elderly, smokers, and people with asthma, heart disease and other cardiopulmonary conditions.
In these situations, reduce physical activity, consider closing windows and staying indoors, and drink lots of fluids.

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville

Fire is as much a part of our forest communities as people are, but fires that keep the forest healthy can also be a concern for home and property owners. Parks Canada, along with many residents, are now following FireSmart practices to help to reduce the risk of property loss from wildfire and help keep their families safer. For more information on FireSmart, go to www.partnersinprotection.ab.ca

Narrator:
Fire Communications Officer, Grant Neville


You’ve been listening to Parks on Fire, a podcast 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.