A fuel break is an area where coniferous trees (trees with needles) and forest floor woody fuels are removed. These are the fuels that burn hot and fast in dry conditions while leafy trees and bushes burn more slowly. By creating an area that is predominantly aspen and grassland, a wildfire that comes in contact with the fuel break is more likely to move from rolling through the tree tops of pine, fir and spruce to a ground fire that can be easier to manage. Prescribed fire and hand thinning are used to maintain the fuel break as organic material accumulates through the years.
A fuel break may appear to be a drastic measure in the beginning, but the area will recover and rejuvenate with fresh foliage within one to two years. Coniferous forest in the park and this region is large enough that creating these small fuel breaks will not cause harm to any species. The area provides habitat that is preferred by other native species and allows them to flourish.

Waskesiu Community Fuel Break

Prince Albert National Park developed the Waskesiu Community Fuel Break (CFB) in 2001-2002. About 300 hectares of forest was harvested to reduce the risk to the townsite from wildfires.
Each spring, dead and excess vegetation is removed from a part of the fuel break using prescribed fire, an intentionally lit, controlled fire. The green grass that grows back slows down an approaching wildfire, moves fire from the tree tops to the ground where it is more easily extinguished, and provides a strategic line between approaching wildfires and Waskesiu.

 

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.

East Boundary Fuel Break

Work on the East Boundary Fuel Break began in winter 2017. The East Boundary Fuel Break between Prince Albert National Park and Elk Ridge Resort and community, combined with the adjacent fuel break created by the Ministry of Environment’s Wildfire Management Branch in 2016, provides an important feature to help reduce the intensity of a wildfire that threatens park neighbours.

The fuel break stretches half a kilometre along Highway 264 near the East Gate park entrance and 1 km north of the highway, along the park boundary parallel to Elk Ridge, encompassing 15 hectares of forest. Other plans over the next few winters include expanding the East Boundary Fuel Break on the south side of the highway and enlarging the Waskesiu Community Fuel Break. (see map)

What can cottage and homeowners do?

While a fuel break can help reduce the risk to a community from wildfire, people can do other things to lessen the chance that the fire will spread into their communities. FireSmart Canada is a nationally recognized agency that has information and actions for people to use. For more information visit https://www.firesmartcanada.ca

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