In the past, the importance of fire in maintaining a healthy ecosystem was not understood. Extinguishing all wildfires is now understood to interrupt the natural cycle of forest and grassland renewal. Some plant and animal species depend on frequent fire. As an example, grasslands get smaller without fire to control adjacent aspen forests. In boreal forests, most tree species are not well adapted to a long lifespan. If trees become over-mature, the forest becomes more susceptible to diseases and storm damage.

To restore and maintain forest and grassland ecosystems, prescribed fires are used to substitute the natural disturbance patterns of wildfires. Prescribed fires are intentionally lit, controlled fires that:

  • reduce dead vegetation that will release nutrients to enrich the soil,
  • reduce the hazard of built up, dead, flammable materials that could otherwise ignite large catastrophic wildfires and
  • promote new growth to provide habitat and food for many species of plants and animals.

Annual monitoring of natural and prescribed fire activity in the park is used to determine when and where a prescribed fire will help improve or maintain the health of the park.

Waskesiu: Reducing the risk of wildfire - Prince Albert National Park

Transcript

Parks Canada beaver logo appears on screen

Prescribed fire is used in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, to improve rare fescue grasslands, a habitat favoured by wild plains bison. There are three critical steps when using prescribed fire that are described in the video.

[Music] [Narrator]The use of controlled fire is one way Prince Albert National Park is improving fescue meadows to reconnect grasslands, bison and people. On the west side of the park, the free-roaming Sturgeon River plains bison rely on this diminishing habitat.

A UTV emerges from a smokey scene. An aerial view of Prince Albert National Park's West Side grasslands. Scenes of bison cows and calves in grasslands.

[ECOLOGIST DUSTY GUEDO]: “In Prince Albert National Park, wildfire is one of the main ecological disturbances within the landscape, over the last 70/80 years we've been suppressing fire on this landscape and we found that it's changed the landscape to the point where we now realize that fire is a very important mechanism to help renew forest landscape and to also open up areas such as grasslands and keep those areas free from forest encroachment.”

The Prince Albert National Park sign. An ecologist standing in a green, grassy area a few weeks after a fire went through. Scenes of a helicopter with water bucket, green grass growing over ash, a meadow seen from the air appear while he speaks.

[Narrator] Prescribed fires being conducted in Prince Albert National Park contribute to maintaining a diversity of habitat for wildlife, like wild plains bison. There are a few steps to creating a prescribed fire.

A wildland firefighter uses a terra torch to burn grass and trees. A bull bison is seen from the air walking through an area that was burned.

Step One – Planning Prescribed fires are only lit after an intensive planning period that includes peer review of fire plans by other fire management specialists as well as public consultations.

Scenes of fire personnel in safety meetings.

Step Two – Blacklining A blackline is a 10- to 20-metre-wide guard that goes around the burn unit and is created by burning the ground and standing vegetation. Blacklining is a control feature that is carried out in either early spring or late fall. This is a period where the fire crew has the most control over burning conditions.

A line of fire is shown as fire personnel create the blackline. Two firefighters stand in a charred, smokey meadow.

Step Three – Ignition

Parks Canada has a variety of methods for igniting prescribed fires like the hand-held drip torch, the flame-throwing-like Terra Torch and an aerial ignition device mounted to a helicopter that drops chemical-filled ping pong balls that ignite shortly after landing on the ground.

A firefighter uses a terra torch to light a large spruce tree on fire. Close ups of the three tools used in prescribed fire are shown - drip torch, terra torch, aerial ignition device mounted on a helicopter.

The main unit fire usually takes place in spring when the fire will carry through to the targeted vegetation, but only when all the weather parameters are just right, particularly the wind. Wasstrom’s Flats and Sugar Creek prescribed fires were approximately two thousand hectares in total.

Firefighters stand in a protected green meadow while fire burns safely around sweat lodge structures. Aerial view of a prescribed fire and large smoke column are shown.

At all times, safety for firefighters, visitors and infrastructure are always the priority. Fire crew members are ready to attack any fire that escapes a blackline, again, mostly by helicopters with water buckets and ground crews using pumps from rivers, water backpacks and hand tools.

Fire personnel are shown in safety briefings, fixing equipment and assessing the fire. A helicopter with a water bucket flies in front of the smoke column.

The Final Step – Repetition Trembling aspen are hardy trees that send suckers underground in an effort to expand their claim on grasslands. Because of their resilience, prescribed fires need to be repeated every one to three years in the same area to increase the extent of the grasslands.

Aspen trees are shown from the air and then up close on the ground. Firefighters light grass and aspen on fire with drip torches.

The Prince Albert National Park fire management program has successfully carried out more than 25 prescribed fires since 2002. This supports Parks Canada’s commitment to improving the ecological health in national parks for present and future generations.

Firefighters stand and assess an area to be burned. A green and leafy West Side forest, meadow and river are shown from the air. Bison cows with calves are shown up close standing in a meadow.

[FIRE MANAGEMENT OFFICER JIM DURNIN] “There’s no more grass.”

A fire management officer looks around as he walks a few steps.

[Blowing out a flame and crinkle of dead grass and sound of fire as man walks away]

He blows out the flame on the drip torch in his hands and walks off camera.

Logos appear on-screen

Parks Canada logo. © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by Parks Canada, 2016. Canada wordmark.

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