Prescribed fire goes ahead as planned in Jasper

June 1, 2015

By: Hinton Parklander

The prescribed burn in Jasper National Park went ahead as planned and the burn so far accomplished all objectives.

Jasper National Park Fire Communication Office Kim Weir said that the fire happenedon May 23. It was located 20 km north of the Town of Jasper and 44 km south west of Hinton. The total area of the burn was 500 hectares.

In the past, 225 hectare in this particular area was burned.

“We now have a total area of 725 hectare of burned area out there… where we have restored the important natural process of fire,” Weir explained.

She said the area that was burned is a fire adapted landscape. All the species of plants or animals that live in the area are adapted to fires in some way shape or form by having to live with fire for so long. She estimated that habitat prevailed in the area 10,000 years, effectively since the last ice retreated during the last ice age.

“We live in a very fire prone landscape,” she said. “We need fire in most areas of our mountain national park to keep

the landscape healthy and maintain wildlife habitat.”

This was one of the purposes of the prescribed burn. In the lower slopes, in the Vine Creek Unit, there were fairly frequent fires. Along with the objective of restoring the natural process of fire, crews wanted to restore the landscape to what it would have looked like historically in the past.

Weir explained that in the area they have the white bark pine tree, a keystone species. It is an important tree in the area.

“Unfortunately it is not doing very well,” she said. “So it’s a species at risk in Alberta.”

She said it is a beautiful tree that lives on the mid slopes of the unit. It is a tree that can survive in harsh environments. In the area in question they grow in fairly high elevations where other trees often cannot establish themselves.

The white bark pine has had some bad luck after seven years of fire suppression. A lot of the habitat necessary for this tree has been lost. Other trees have been able to encroach onto the habitat and crowd the mount. Restoring the white bark pine habitat was another goal of his fire.

As preparation before the burn, there was some selective burning done around the white bark pine stands to protect them.

“We were trying to encourage the re-colonization of this species at risk,” she said.

There also two important social objectives. The first one does have benefits for Hinton. Now that 725 hectares has been burned this has created a natural fireguard for lands adjacent to the area like the Athabasca Valley. This provides a barrier because of the natural feature like Jasper Lake and the Athabasca River on one side and the burned landscape on the other side. So if a wildfire did spark in Jasper National Park it would be difficult for it to spread eastward.

“That will really help reduce the wildfire risk from wildfires in Jasper to those downwind communities,” she said.

The final objective was that the huge break in the landscape should slow the spread of the mountain pine beetle. She explained that contrary to popular belief, this was not a burn of the beetle itself.

This was a removal of the habitat ahead of where the insect is located.

“The mountain pine beetle hasn’t made it that far east yet,” she said.

This burn should make it harder for the beetle to make it across the burned area.

At the time of this interview, May 26, crews were still out working on putting out the fire. This work was set to continue until the fire is fully extinguished. Weir expects efforts will continue for the next few days.

As far as how long it would take to put the fire out, she could not say for sure. If there is a good rainfall the process will go much quicker. If not efforts will continue.

“It’s up to mother nature,” she said.

There are helicopters pouring buckets of water around the parameter of the fire. There are also ground crews working on extinguishment. The ground crews have chainsaws and are cutting down smoldering trees.

There are also pumps and hoses sprinkling out water. Firefighters are also hosing off areas and digging up areas to make sure nothing is still burning.

She said the final part of this will be a fly over the burned area with an infrared fire detecting device. This device detects heat. It should find any hotspots in the area. She said crews are sure at this point there are no hotspots but this device will be able to say for sure.

As for smoke hazards she said there was “not even remotely” a smoke hazard.

Drivers on the highway may have seen smoke but that was all.

This prescribed fire has been in the works since 2007. Weir explained they were waiting for just the right weather conditions to line up with the right forest conditions to safely carry it out.

“It was well worth the wait,” she said.

By: Hinton Parklander

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