21 september 2012

Climate change and forest fire research


(Ministry of Natural Resources)
The Okanse Lake, Ont. prescribed burn was located about 90 kilometres northeast of Ear Falls, and 94 kilometres east of Red Lake. This prescribed burn is providing a research opportunity to help understand the specific fire behaviour related to wind-storm damaged forests

Climate change is having an effect on forest conditions and how firefighters will fight these blazes in the future. More and more they are tending to burn more intensely and are harder to control, as well as posing a greater safety risk to firefighters.

The Ministry of Natural Resources is conducting a number of so-called “prescribed burns” this week in northern Ontario.  These are forest fires that have been deliberately set in order to study the dynamics of a fire under differing conditions and with different species of trees.

RCI’s Marc Montgomery spoke with Steve Toman, Fire Operations Supervisor at Red Lake Fire Management Headquarters
Rangers have noted that with climate change, storms have become more frequent and more violent.

One aspect of this is the number of “blowdowns”, where swaths of trees  have simply been blown down, or a microburst where a large number of trees in a localized area have been pushed over by the strong winds. 

Unlike a fire which tends to spread through the canopy, these blowdowns, or jackpots, act like giant campfires with dead trees piled on top of each other. If a fire reaches them, they burn with much greater intensity, and can cause a fire to spread which would normally die out on its own.  They also pose a greater risk to firefighters.

Looking closely you can see a "blowdown" of fallen timber. This prescribed burn near Horse Lake, Ont. was done using aerial ignition with a Helitorch machine. The Horse Lake prescribed burn was a 620-hectare burn, about 50 kilometres northeast of Sioux Lookout, between McDuff Lake and Tully Lake. (Ministry of Natural Resources)

Climate change has also allowed more harmful tree beetles to survive the winter causing extensive tree die off, creating more dead, dry timber.  Combined with hotter and dryer summers, it means more fires in the boreal forest, and fires having differing dynamics than previously. 

This will change the way fires will be fought in the future, and prescribed burns will help firefighters gather data towards understanding these new dynamics to determine how and where to fight the fires, and in some cases whether to let the fires burn to create regeneration in the forest.

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