The fire season began with the potential for yet another busy year. Central Canada had a dry fall and winter accompanied by a dry spring. But by the beginning of June, the rains came. It was not until mid July that the action started to pick up with the Yukon picking up fires followed in August by Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia picking up their share of problems.
On 22 July 1990, the elderly and the young were evacuated from the village of Old Crow due to the threat caused by the Old Crow fire which at this time was 10,000 ha in size. The entire village was evacuated the following day.
For most of the fire season, British Columbia’s biggest problem was the abundance of rain causing havoc rather than fires. Things started to dry out but it wasn’t until mid-August that things started burning. During this time, the province was getting well over 100 fires a day and this started to put a stress on its resources. Resource orders came in for additional aircraft, helicopters, fireline equipment and personnel. The requests for aircraft and equipment were filled but requests for helicopters and personnel were pending. The United States were also very busy at this time and preliminary inquiries indicated that 20-man crews were not available out of Boise Interagency Fire Center (BIFC). Helicopters soon became available but the shortage of personnel persisted. This shortage saw British Columbia seek the services of trained out of province crews but with little or no mountain fire fighting experience. They received five 5-man crews from the Northwest Territories, four 20-man crews from Manitoba, and ten 3-man crews from Ontario. The busiest day occurred on 16 August when the Province had 1,129 active fires. Things began to slow down after that as favourable weather invaded the province and brought relief to the fire situation.
August was also the month of fires for Region 2. Saskatchewan had to evacuate the towns of St.Georges Hill, Descharme Lake, Canoe Lake and Meadow Lake on 9 August due to the threat of an advancing fire. By 10 August, eight problem fires were burning in Saskatchewan but relief was in site and the evacuated people were allowed to return home. Resources in the form of two contract helicopters and sprinkler kits form the Northwest as well as aircraft fuelling systems from Manitoba were brought in to add to Saskatchewan’s fire fighting arsenal.
The Northwest Territories had a relatively quiet fire year enabling them to lend a hand to other agencies in the form of aircraft, contract helicopters, fireline equipment and personnel. On a couple of occasions, their forecasted hazard necessitated heavy man-up in anticipation of an increase in the fire load but only moderate activity occurred which was handled quickly with their additional resources.
On 7 August, Alberta had received over 100 starts resulting in five problem fires. Resource orders came in for pumps and hose, and these were filled. Also, a DC-6 from the Northwest Territories was brought in to aid in this situation. As the week went on, additional forces were mobilized in the form of 2 additional DC-6 groups from BC/Conair, and one CL-215 group, two contract helicopters from the Northwest Territories. Around 16 August, favourable weather had invaded the province to bring some relief to the fire situation and allowed for the demobilization of some of the external resources.
Manitoba enjoyed a respite this year having had only one problem fire all summer; that being the Wabowden fire of 15 July 1990 at 1,200 ha. It seemed for a while in May that Ontario would again be in the thick of things when resource orders started coming in for aircraft (one CL-215 from Newfoundland, one CL-215 group from Yukon) but that did not last too long due to the rains that followed. Ontario’s main problem this past season has been the Observation Zone fires near Webequie north of the 52nd parallel in the Northern region. Two separate evacuations took place at two different occasions during the summer due to the threat that this fire was posing to this community.
The region had a relatively quiet fire season except for a few flaps in both New Brunswick and Quebec. The week of 10 June saw New Brunswick battling a 1,6oo ha blaze with the help of one CL-215 from Newfoundland, one CL-215 and a birddog from Ontario, two CL-215 from Quebec and two Firecats and a birddog from British Columbia/Conair. Quebec held their own once again this summer with just a few highlights worth mentioning. The week of 27 May saw Quebec experiencing dry and windy weather resulting in extreme fire behaviour (78 fires for 1,286 ha for that week). One week later, Quebec had picked up 30 new fires for 4,000 ha for a total of 341 fires burning 6,430 ha, almost half of the total season’s area burned in the FAZ.
Although being a relatively quiet fire season, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) processed a total of 90 resource orders, 41 of those occurring during the month of August. Along with the usual movements of airtankers and fireline equipment was yet another high level of human resource movements. A total of 279 personnel were mobilized across the country this summer. In addition to this 91 individuals from the Alaska Forest Service were mobilized to the Yukon to assist them during their fire flap. This amount of Interagency movement of personnel once again re-enforces the need for well trained crews, able to work in various regions across the country.
The bulk of the fire load was in the West this year. As this is a traditional land-based tanker country the requirement for this resource was in constant demand during the period of peak activity. Airtanker movement over long distances was also highlighted with a Firecat group moving from British Columbia to New Brunswick and two CL-215’s from Quebec to Alberta.
(graphics will be added alter)
This graph depicts the weekly fire starts from May to September 1990. Other than for two weeks in May and four weeks in August, the fire starts were well below those of last year’s record year.
Canada had what could be termed as an average fire year with a total of 10,072 fires being reported as of 31 December 1990. Although the numbers may be average, the area affected stands at 921,151 ha which is well below the ten-year average of 2 million ha. As the following statistics show, out of the 10,072 fires burning 931,632 ha, 369 of them burnt 492,046 ha in the observation zone. This means that 3.7% of the total fires accounted for 52.8% of the territory burnt.
From: Tom Johnston Operations Manager Address: Canadian Interagency Fire Center 210-301 Weston Street CDN-Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 3H4