Canada Report 1998 (IFFN No. 20 – March 1999)

Canada Report 1998

(IFFN No. 20 – March 1999,p. 40-45)

The 1998 fire season in Canada will reflect a 17% increase in fires over the 10-year average but the hectares consumed will be in the top worst five years. This large consumption of forest land in part reflects the intensity of the fire activity that occurred over the course of the season. The season began with national mobilizations occurring in early May due to intense fire activity beginning in April. This set the stage for a high level of interagency dependence on mutual aid resources, through-out the fire season. By the season’s end, mobilization records will have again been broken. By 31 December 1998 Canada recorded 10,838 fires for 4,710,775 ha.

The 1995 mobilization record between 28 May and 7 July was shattered when over 1400 personnel were mobilized in May 1998 alone. This is now the largest mobilization of resources on record. Over 1400 fire management personnel had moved including 700 personnel from the United States. This along with large amounts of fire line equipment put Canada’s cooperative system of resource sharing to the test.

Canadian’s El Niño winter had western fire managers anticipating and active fire season. Alberta was still fighting fire during Christmas 1997, an extremely mild and low snow winter in the west, severe ice storms and subsequent flooding in the east gave evidence of an abnormally weather pattern developing. Forest fire season began two to three weeks early with low over winter precipitation bringing portions of British Columbia (BC), Alberta (AB), Saskatchewan (SK), Manitoba (MB), northwestern Ontario and the southern half of the Northwest (NT) and Yukon (YT) Territories into the fire season, with extremely high drought codes (DC). Beginning in April above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation across portions of the western provinces and territories further increased the fire occurrence and severity potential.

Late April and early May ushered in the fire season with a vengeance. Human caused fire were been recorded in high numbers from Ontario (ON) west. AB was faced with numerous human caused fires coupled with unseasonably warm and dry conditions with high winds. Severe fire behaviour resulted in many fires escaping initial attack, growing quickly to project fire status and soaking up available resources. Due to the early fire season, many agencies did not have their full complement of human resources up to full strength, therefore these resources where quickly depleted. As early as 3 May 1998 the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) was required to located large numbers of professional firefighters. Due to limited number of human resources available at this time of year in Canada, CIFFC mobilized the first five of many, twenty person sustained action crews from the National Incident Command Centre (NICC) located in Boise Idaho.

Along with the continuous flow of human resources, competition for available air tankers and helicopters was increasing rapidly and quantities of fire line equipment was being mobilized into AB. By the second week of May restricted fire zones were in place in AB, ON and QC with project fires being reported in AB, ON and PC Jasper Park. A high level infrared scanner was moved into AB from NICC to assist in the fire mapping process. Evacuations had taken place in Slave Lake AB, Gull Lake ON, and twice in Swan Hills AB. By late May the fire situation remained serious in AB and was escalating in SK, ON and QC where additional project fire were being reported and fire occurrences increasing. By the end of May resource orders were being filled for QC, ON, and SK as the fire activity and project fires increased in those areas.

Early June saw some what of a moderating effect, primarily on the lower _’s of the prairie provinces and ON and QC. This allowed good progress to be made on many on the project fires, but the northern portions of the prairie provinces and both territories were still experiencing drought like conditions with high fire occurrence potential. AB and SK still had a long way to go with their existing project fire situations. Crews rotation was required which necessitated large numbers of personnel mobilizations, along with maintaining adequate resources for new starts. The Yukon’s fire activity was increasing. One fire near Hanes Junction escaped initial attack and grew rapidly under severe fire conditions. Internal resources already low necessitated external assistance. Overhead teams and suppression crews and CL-215 groups came in from as far away as ON along with command and support trailers from BC. Mobilizations and demobilizations continued in support of the existing fire management activities in AB and SK. By the end of June over 2100 professional fire management personnel, 38 CL-215/415 airtankers, high level infrared scanning aircraft, large transport and rotor wing a/c plus a large assortment of fireline equipment had been mobilized in support of the fire management activity in Canada, with the bulk of the resources moving into AB. With the lightning season now underway the fire community was well on its way to another record breaking year.

By the end of the first week of July the hand writing was already on the wall. The fire severity map showed clearly the hazard increasing in the far northwest was now spreading across the northern portions of the provinces to northern ON. Resources were already moving into YT. All western provinces were experiencing multiple starts due to the increased lightning activity. Agency internal resources were becoming scarce. Over 1100 fires occurred between 4 and 12 July 1998. Requested for skimmer aircraft could not be filled. Initial attack crews were at a premium. The situation across western and northern Canada was critical. Canada was on the edge. Fortunately precipitation came across the north-central portions of the prairie provinces reducing the severity of the situation for those areas. Yukon and the Northwest Territories continued to battle the large fires that had develop in the wake of the earlier multi-start fire incidence. Many of these fires posed a potential threat to communities and other remote values. Ontario continue to respond to daily multiple fire starts though-out latter July when a moderating trend allowed then to recycle their resources. A record breaking heat-wave and the forecast of dry lightning in south central BC during the last week of July, forced BC into recalling many of their resources loaned out during the earlier stages of the summer. In anticipation of the upcoming multi-fire occurrence BC began to preposition resources into the high fire potential regions. By the end of July over 200 personnel along with 2 CL-415’s and fireline equipment had been mobilized into BC. Due to the extreme fire potential across western Canada these resources were moved in from as far away as NB, QC and ON.

August brought continued fire activity to BC. Hot dry weather along with intermittent dry lightning resulted in multiple starts in the south central areas. Over 400 fire were reported over the August long weekend. This hot weather pattern spread across the prairies rising the fire potential into the extreme range in many areas. By the end of the first week of August, multiple fires occurrence due primarily to lightning was occurring in all western fire management agencies. This coupled with local wind events escalated the severity of the situation. Large fires with interface components and value losses were occurring in many areas. Evacuations or evacuation alerts were in effect in BC, YT, SK. Resource demands increased but mobilization slowed as available resources were used up. Fire activity in the USA reduced the chance of available resources from that sector. Resource orders for air tankers and large crews were backed-up awaiting availability. A state of emergency was declared around the Salmon Arm area of BC. BC called in 300 military personnel to help ease the demand for personnel.

The week from 1 to 13 August 1998 was the most active for the season with 1637 fires and 1.6 million hectares of forested land consumed. Large fires were occurring in all agencies from ON west. All available trained fire suppression personnel had been mobilized from across Canada and also the US. Requests for suppression crews, airtankers and selected pieces and fireline equipment could not be immediately met. New and existing fire activity continued well into August. Additional pressure was being placed on available personnel resources as the student firefighter began returning to school. With the cooler evening and good recovery overnight the fire activity slowed by late August although most of the north and west required substantial amounts of rain to put a final end to the 1998 fire season.

By the end of the season CIFFC had responded to 177 resource requests which resulted in approximately 3,000 personnel including over 800 from the United States, 27 air tankers groups for a total 70 air tankers, 900 fire pump kits, 20,000 lengths of hose, 1,035 sprinkler heads, 3,000 assorted hand tools plus camping gear and other items. Due to the quiet spring fire load in the United States, CIFFC was able to make extensive use of their suppression crews, large transport jet and high level infrared aircraft. The August bust was a different story, only limited personnel resources were available from the US. Once again CIFFC broke all previous records for mobilization in all resource categories. This year tested the operational procedures, agreements and exchange standards that have been developed and are in place for many of the agencies including CIFFC. The lack of large transport aircraft is a continuing national problem requiring a national solution. The continued development and acceptance of national standards for all resources and operational procedures will continue to raise the level of forest fire management in Canada.

Canada as a whole experienced an above average fire year for fire and for hectares burnt. As of 31 December 1998 10,838 fires were recorded compared to an 10-year average of 8,937. On the down side Canada has consumed 4,710,775 ha of forested land compared to a 10-year average of 3,022,613 ha.

The following statistics (Tab.1) show that out of a total of 10,838 fires burning 4,710,775 ha, 798 were actioned under a Modified Response, consuming 2,599,707 ha. The fires that received a Modified Response account for only 7.4 % of the total fires, but 55% of the total area consumed.

Tab.1. Wildfire statistics of Canada 1998

The following graph (Fig.1) shows the number of fire starts by week for 1998 as compared to the 10 year average. The anomalies in fire occurrence during the 1998 season can be scene.

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Fig.1. Weekly fire starts for 1998

Wildfires in which structures and or other human development have been lost or damaged, have become known as “Interface Fires.” Table 2 shows the wildfire loss estimates for 1998 as compared to previous years. As of 31 December 1998 there have been no forest fire related fatalities reported. Table 3 shows total fire related fatalities in years past (Tab.3). Wildfire starts and area burned by wildfires in Canada 1988-98 are summarized in Tables 4 and 5.


Tab.2. Wildfire loss estimates for Canada 1990-98 (interface losses, not including forest resources) for 1998 as compared to previous years

As of December 31st, 1998 there have been no forest fire related fatalities reported. The following table shows total fire related fatalities in years past

Tab.3. Forest fire related fatalities in Canada 1986-98

Tab.4. Wildfire starts in Canada 1988-98 (total number of fires, lightning & human-caused)

Tab.5. Total area burned by wildfires in Canada 1988-98

Tom Johnston Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre
210-301 Weston Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 3H4
CANADA e-mail:

IFFN No. 20
Country Notes

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