Where is that Wildfire Smoke Coming From?

Over the weekend, southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario were blanketed in wildfire smoke. I happened to be in Lac du Bonnet over the weekend and the smoke was so thick that the other side of the lake had disappeared behind an impenetrable haze.

This smoke is coming from wildfires that are burning in Manitoba on the east side of Lake Winnipeg and across the border in northwestern Ontario. The map below is taken from the MODIS satellite, which detects hotspots created by wildfire. The yellow points on the map are hotspots that have been detected since the start of the fire season. Orange indicates hotspots that are 24 hours old and red spots are heat sources that have been detected in the last twelve hours.

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 8.00.41 AM.png

In Manitoba, the largest active wildfire to the south is currently burning to the west of Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi. Due to the smoke this fire is putting out, at risk residents have started to be evacuated from these communities. This fire is approximately 2000 hectares in size and still burning out of control.

Meanwhile, multiple large conflagrations are burning just across the Manitoba-Ontario border in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. The community of Pikangikum Ontario is beginning its second wildfire-related evacuation of the year as a fire burns only 6 km away. Further to the north, the community of Keewaywin is also nearly completely evacuated. The latest report from Ontario’s wildfire agency said that this wildfire is only 8 km from the community.

In Manitoba and Ontario, wildfire suppression agencies are working to contain these fires with waterbombers, firefighters, and the potential use of backburning (controlled burns). Fire crews are also deploying wildfire protection sprinklers on structures to protect them from the approaching fires.

Wildfire Update for Manitoba

It was a hot and dry Canada Day weekend in Manitoba and fireworks were not the only light show on display. Lightning systems passed through Manitoba with very little accompanying rain. This means that conditions were ideal for lightning caused wildfire ignition and that’s exactly what happened.

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 4.30.56 PM.png

At least 18 new wildfires started over the weekend, bringing the yearly wildfire total for Manitoba up to 159. The majority of the new fires are located in eastern Manitoba in the forests north of Bissett. The areas east of Lake Winnipeg, including Whiteshell Provincial Park, Nopiming Provincial Park, and Atikaki Provincial Park continue to have the highest fire danger in the province at this time.

Dry conditions and strong winds have been pushing these fires with one wildfire, just across the border near Sandy Lake Ontario, spreading 20km in one afternoon.

The provincial fire program has been fighting these new fires, non of which are currently threatening any communities; however, fire crews have been setting up wildfire protection sprinklers on remote cabins and resorts.

Check out some of our earlier articles to learn how wildfire protection sprinklers work.

We all know how quickly weather conditions change in Manitoba; only days after rain the ground and plants can be bone dry or when it’s raining in one place, it might be sunny and hot the next town over. This means that we should always be aware of the possibility of wildfire.

May 20th Wildfire North of Falcon Lake

IMG_9593.JPG

On May 20, a wildfire was burning about 700m north of Falcon Beach Ranch, near Falcon Lake, Manitoba. Fortunately the 1.8 ha forest fire was contained through the quick response by the Whiteshell Fire Department, the Falcon Parks crew, initial attack crews and the use of water bombers. A few key observations from this wildfire:

  • Warm and dry weather in Manitoba and Northern Ontario have made conditions prime for wildfires. It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent human-caused forest fires, like this one, by following burn ban restrictions and being mindful of fire ignition hazards (i.e. ATVs, cigarette butts, and camp stoves).

  • It took the combined forces and resources of several departments, fire crews, pumper trucks and water bombers to protect Falcon Beach Ranch and contain this relatively small forest fire. Had the winds been unfavourable, or had this fire been larger, it is easy to imagine how these resources could have been stretched out if they needed to protect multiple properties in the area. Wildfire suppression is an important tool for containing wildfires, but it is the responsibility of property owners, both private and public, to prepare for and defend against wildfires in the wildland-urban interface.

fullsizeoutput_150f.jpg
  • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The resources mobilized to fight this wildfire offer a reminder of the costliness of fighting wildfires. Wildfire costs are estimated to grow exponentially as climate change contributes to increasing numbers of wildfires. Reactively responding to wildfire is always the most costly option, both economically and socially.

  • Hats off to the voluntary fire departments of Manitoba and Northern Ontario! These voluntary fire department provide the backbone to responding to wildland-urban interface fires in cottage country. Their dedication and responsiveness are vital to protecting properties, livelihoods and human (and animal) lives.

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day 2019

Firesmart-Canada.png

Today is Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in Canada, which is an event promoted by FireSmart Canada for engaging home owners and communities in wildfire adaptation. Here at WildFire AP, we are excited to announce two new partnerships that coincide with this event.

logo.png

First, WildFire AP and Cottage Fire Safety Services have partnered up to offer cottagers a full service wildfire protection sprinkler system combined with internal cottage fire safety services. Cottagers interested in these services would receive annual pump and system testing and maintenance, internal fire safety inspections, and an easy-to-use wildfire protection sprinkler system. Some cottages may qualify for an insurance rebate upon the installation of these systems.

Fireforce-Logo.jpg

WildFire AP is now also able to provide emergency structural protection services in the wildland-urban interface. Partnering with FireForce Ltd., we are equipped to support fire agencies in emergency wildfire scenarios with wildfire protection sprinkler trailers, capable of protecting up to 40 homes per trailer. We can also provide water transfer services and firefighting gels, which can be applied to structures for up to 72 hours of protection or used in active firefighting applications.

At WildFire AP, we also are strong proponents of FireSmart and offer wildfire hazard assessments, wildfire adaptation planning and recommendations, and the services necessary to help your home and community become more resilient to wildfire.

Individuals, communities, and firefighting agencies interested in these services and products can call or email for more information.  

Visit FireSmart and watch this video for more information on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.

Climate Change and Wildfires in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario

A question we are often asked is “What is the impact of climate change on wildfires?” The flip side of this question is “what is the effect of wildfires on climate change?” Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

Garry 054.jpg

So what do we know about the effect of climate change on wildfires? We know that climate change is already contributing to an increase in the number and intensity of wildfires, and that this will continue to get worse as global temperatures rise. However, climate change also brings a lot of variability and instability to weather patterns, so as the climate changes we might experience some years with high wildfire occurrences and some years with low wildfire occurrences.

In general, climate change results in warmer temperatures and a lengthening of the summer season. This has several interconnected effects:

1. Warmer summers are more likely to dry out the boreal forest.

2. Longer summers and shorter winters will enable forest pests (like the mountain pine beetle and emerald ash borer) to expand their ranges and populations, thereby killing more trees, which results in more flammable material.

3. Longer summers will result in a longer fire season.

4. Warmer and drier conditions will allow fires to burn more deeply into organic material (like peat and duff), which could result in “holdover fires”, which are fires that will continue to smolder through damp periods (even over the winter in some cases), exploding into wildfires as weather conditions change.

5. Research has suggested that lightning strikes are increasing with climate change, and will continue to increase, thus resulting in more wildfires. This is significant because most of the area burnt by wildfires in the boreal result from fires ignited by lightning. This is because lightning-ignited fires often occur in areas less accessible to wildfire suppression teams and resources.

Canadian fire researchers estimate that given the current pace of climate change, and assuming there is no significant reductions in carbon emissions slowing the rate of warming, by 2050 the area burned in Central and Western Manitoba (i.e. the Boreal Plains) and Eastern Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario (i.e. the Boreal Shield West) will see a 40% increase in annual area burned by wildfires. The Taiga of Northern Manitoba will see a 78% increase in area burned. To keep pace with these fires, Natural Resources Canada estimates fire protection costs will double in the next 20-25 years.

Complicating all of this is the impact of wildfire on climate change. Wildfires emit a significant amount of CO2 and black carbon when they burn, and it is estimated that more CO2 is emitted by the dead wood left behind decomposes in the years after a fire. While wildfire contribute to CO2 emissions (ie.climate change), there is also the possibility that some of the particulates released into the atmosphere by fires can reflect heat from the sun, which can contribute to short-term cooling, similar to the effects of volcanic eruptions. Also, fires spur on new forest growth, which can offset carbon emissions. In general, Canada’s forests have been a carbon sink, but wildfires have the potential to make them a carbon source, particularly if climate change limits the regrowth potential of the forests. That said, wildfires are part of the natural carbon cycle, and the overall carbon emissions from wildfires is minute compared to fossil fuel emissions[MOU1] .

The one thing that is uncomplicated is our response to climate change and wildfire, which requires quick and effective action.

First, we need to reduce human-caused sources of carbon (i.e. fossil fuel emissions) to slow the speed of climate change to reduce the risk and potential of future wildfires.

Second, we need to adapt our communities to the changing climate and the wildfire regime it has already produced. Adaptation is of particular importance to frontline communities; those communities that already exist in the wildland urban interface that are most likely to bear the brunt of wildfires.

The recently released federal budget includes funding for wildfire preparedness on First Nations and this is a step in the right direction. However, more action is needed to adapt our communities, infrastructure, and social systems to the potential risks posed by a new climate change driven fire regime.