Fire detection begins at Wood Buffalo, Nahanni parks

Fire detection begins at Wood Buffalo, Nahanni parks
Photo: John McColgan BLM Alaska Fire Services.

With weather stations fired up, detection planes on the move and fire crews in training, the fire management team at Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) is ready for fire season.

The team began monitoring relative humidity, winds and water levels on April 24, starting in the southern part of the park where it is most dry, in order to calculate the fire danger in the park.

Daily flights between Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan are also on the look-out for smoke, though no wildfires have been detected so far.

“The big difference right now is that the lightning season hasn’t started yet, so when the lightning season starts, we’re going to have more frequent detection flights,” said Jean Morin, fire manager for WBNP, noting that 99 per cent of fires in the park are typically caused by lightning.

Any fire right now would be human-caused, said Morin, such as the Richardson fire that took the park by storm last April.

Morin said there is a moderate fire danger in the park right now, due to dry conditions and increasingly long days.

“Right now, the fine vegetation’s cured and the leaf flush, especially in the aspen, hasn’t occurred yet, so there’s a lot of dry vegetation that will most likely green up later in the season in June,” he said. “The park is snow-free right now, although there’s still snow water on the surface. And that in the next few weeks will dictate the fire season a bit, if we get precipitation or not. If we do not get any precipitation, then the fire danger will significantly increase. And that would potentially correspond with the start of the lightning season.”

Morin said relative humidity levels have been as low as 22 per cent this year, but are averaging around 40 or 50 per cent.

In Nahanni, Morin said four weather stations supply daily information through satellite transmission. One of them is a new, $20,000 portable weather station that allows the office to learn more about local weather in different parts of the park. Two more portable stations have been added to the five existing ones in WBNP, as well.

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