Parks Canada crews have already been hard at work with wildfire risk reduction efforts even before the official start of wildfire season. | L.Wijk/Parks Canada photo Luuk Wijk

Since before wildfire season began on March 1, Parks Canada has been hard at work doing wildfire risk reduction work.

A few weeks ago, Parks began fireguard work near the base of Signal Mountain. This last week saw the start of further efforts near Pyramid Lake Resort including along a section of trail 2.

Crews are doing a thinning as part of a larger vegetation management practice over the last several years. They have been working in response to the mountain pine beetle outbreak. Some of the work started from FireSmart guidelines, but crews have modified them for an enhanced protection zone around structures.

“Typically, in FireSmart, it’ll extend from 10 to 30 metres from a structure. We’ve modified it slightly so that we’re extending 30 metres approximately from the leasehold, which typically is pretty close to 30 to 40 metres from structures,” said Katie Ellsworth, fire management officer with Jasper National Park.

The work is a continuation of efforts based on a list that Parks made based on the relative risk to various structures. Similar treatments were conducted in the past at Sunwapta Resort, Miette Mountain Resort, the Maligne Canyon Tea House and up at Maligne Lake. They anticipate continuing to go through the rest of this list over the next several years.

At Pyramid Lake, crews are basically doing a level two FireSmart treatment: limbing up all the vegetation on all the remaining trees up to two metres from ground level. This also involves taking out anything that’s dead standing plus reducing overstorey, referring to the portion of the trees that comprises the uppermost canopy layer in a stand that reaches higher than one storey.  

As far as the canopy goes, the objective is to create spacing of two to three metres between treetops. This means that  the conifers will have to go but Douglas firs, a tree species that is well-known to be less fire prone (i.e., more fire resistant). Deciduous trees, which are similarly more fire resistant, will be selectively retained.

“If there’s a threat of wildfire coming, creating that open and defensible space around these areas will encourage a fire to no longer be a crown fire and to be more of a ground fire. It provides an opportunity for structure protections, sprinkler systems to be more effective [and] provides an opportunity to fire crews to have appropriate and more effective suppression action,” Ellsworth said.

The Pyramid Lake project is expected to be completed within the next four weeks.

As long as the ground remains frozen, the Signal Mountain fireguard work will continue every day and into the evenings until March 15.

Even though the province’s wildfire season has officially started, there isn’t an update on the status of the Chetamon Wildfire, which has been held at approximately 6,450 hectares since Sept. 11. Parks Canada will maintain an area closure within the wildfire’s complete perimeter until the spring of 2023, which includes an extended closure of Celestine Road.

Ellsworth did advise members of the public to practice their own good judgment, especially as the snow in the valley bottom starts to disappear and dry grass from last summer starts to expose itself.  

As a result of this wildfire risk reduction work, some sections of trails will be temporarily closed. The public is asked to watch for crews at work and adhere to all posted warnings and closures along trails and roads.

While efforts will be taken to reduce smoke when the crews are burning brush piles, some smoke will likely still be visible. This burning is undertaken and controlled by Parks Canada fire crews and will only occur on days when conditions are safe. There is no need to call 911 or emergency services to report smoke.

Learn more about trail conditions by asking at the Jasper Visitor Centre or calling 780-863-0020. You can also visit www.parkscanada.gc.ca/jaspertrails for details.

For areas to the east outside of Jasper National Park, all current winter burns will need to be fully extinguished and all new burning will require a permit, except for a campfire in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta. Any burning projects that extend into fire season must have been assigned a free burn permit prior to wildfire season. Visit wildfire.alberta.cafor more information.

As always, if you see smoke or flame and suspect it is a wildfire, call 310-FIRE (3473).

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 07, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta
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