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Spring wildfires in Alberta and opportunities for enhanced wildfire preparedness

  • Author / Creator
    Tymstra, Cordy
  • Wildfire management agencies are at a tipping point as wildfire disasters, particularly in western Canada increase in frequency. Climate change impacts, and competing values and assets on the landscape are challenging suppression effectiveness. Semi-structured interviews with Canadian wildfire management agencies were conducted to understand the strategies, policies and preparedness procedures these agencies use to manage wildfires and prepare for a future with more wildfires. These interviews revealed considerable differences in how wildfire management agencies determine their agency preparedness level, and the level of decision support (tools) they use to make these determinations. A future path is proposed to address a double wildfire paradox and ensure Canadians are able to co-exist with wildfire. Alberta has experienced more disastrous wildfire seasons, particularly during the spring, than any other agency across Canada. Spring wildfire preparedness is critical in Alberta. Wildfires starts in May alone account for 23% of all wildfires but are responsible for 55% of the total area burned. Initial attack (IA) and being held (BH) escape surveillance charts with statistical peak over thresholds were developed for enhanced situational awareness in near-real time of spring wildfire activity. Early surveillance of December sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific Ocean were also investigated for use as an indicator of the potential persistence of spring wildfire activity. Surface and upper synoptic weather patterns, and fire weather indices from the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System were evaluated for 80 large wildfires in Alberta that started in May and grew to over 1,000 ha during the 1990 – 2019 period. Pre-frontal and frontal passage activity was the predominant feature associated with 48% of the calendar spread day events during the first four days of wildfire activity. Strong south-southeast winds from a surface high centered east of Alberta and west of Hudson Bay and supported by an upper ridge, and a surface low located southwest of the ridge, occurred on 26% of the calendar spread day events. The spring season in Alberta is an ISI driven fire regime, characterized by very high to extreme FFMC and ISI values. For Alberta, this means large wildfires in the spring can occur after only a few days of dry, windy weather. Opportunities for enhanced wildfire preparedness include night time surveillance, stronger integration of weather and wildfire behavior forecasting, innovative statistical data visualization for decision support, precision preparedness, and the strategic use of prevention regulatory tools.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-28mx-e339
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.