Friday, May 20, 2011

Slave Lake wildfire - More to Come?

The Slave Lake wildfire devastation almost seemed to come from nowhere. There weren't the usual warnings about a fire starting near a community, days of watch to see if it got close, and so on, like we normally see. At least I didn't catch any of it on the nightly news. It was very sudden, the fire was on the town right away, people were evacuated, and everyone was wondering if their homes and businesses would survive intact.

The latest article I read (link posted below), has some interesting facts about this disaster. 485 homes and businesses gone or damaged, almost no prior notice because the fire moved too fast, warmer seasons drying out the boreal forest, more lightning storms, pine beetle spreading and killing trees - turning stems into dry standing fuel, highway closures, 100 km/hr winds, bulldozing unburned homes to create a fire break to protect other homes. These altogether in one event are an extreme occurrence and it makes me wonder if we'll see more of the same.

Warmer summers and mountain pine beetle killed trees alone are enough of a hazard to any towns within the boreal forest. If a town borders a forest that hasn't burned in decades - where fuels have built up on the forest floor and dead pine stand scattered throughout and dry - it could be a recipe for disaster. Many towns in this kind of situation have started projects to create fire breaks and reduce forest fuels so that if a fire does start nearby, it will have less of a direct bridge to structures and settlements.

The bright spot in the Slave Lake disaster is that no one died when the fire hit the town, and during the evacuation, despite what little time people had to react. The PM has toured the area and hopefully supplies and support will come quick to help the residents recover and rebuild.