Fighting fire with more fireguards
February 1, 2023 By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh
Wildfire risk reduction work continues in Jasper National Park.
Crews have picked up where they left off last year on an extended project to establish further protections to the community with fireguard work near the base of Signal Mountain.
The process involves thinning out dead trees and burning them off, resulting in some smoke that can be visible on the hillside. That smoke might occasionally blow into town as well, potentially affecting those with respiratory ailments.
“At this point in time, we do not have any prescribed fires in that area,” said Ryan Burlingame, assistant fire management officer with Jasper National Park.
“However, the risk reduction work being done at the base of Signal Mountain will link natural wet areas with more fire resilient deciduous tree stands along the base of the mountain.”
The work area is located within the Signal Mountain wildlife corridor, extending from the Keith Lakes area on Maligne Lake Road to the southwest-facing slopes of Signal Mountain.
The crews are using mechanical thinning equipment to selectively remove pine trees that have been killed by the mountain pine beetle along with spruce trees.
This thinning allows for improved community wildfire protection when the conditions for prescribed burns may not be cost-efficient, unsafe or otherwise unlikely to be effective. It also helps to create optimal conditions for prescribed fires in the future.
This project is different from the Community Fireguard, which is a cleared fuel break on Pyramid Bench along the Cabin Lake fire road. That space works both as a barrier to slow the spread of a wildfire and also as a defensive post that responders can access while carrying out fire control measures.
The Signal Mountain fireguard works to establish narrow bands where the fuels have already been reduced between fire-resistant trees including Douglas fir and aspen.
Removing the fuel source while also thinning out the remaining forest is a two-pronged approach with three goals: improving the effectiveness of fire suppression techniques, limiting the intensity of any wildfire and reducing the potential for spot fires from wind-blown embers.
“The work we have going on out there is the removal of standing forest fuels, namely standing dead pine trees that were affected by the mountain pine beetle infestation,” Burlingame said.
“What this is doing is we’re creating a break between continuous forest canopy fuels. When you have a continuous canopy of trees, it is more easy to spread fire. What we’re doing there is creating a break where there is no fuel.”
The break is expected to be several meters wide and two kilometres long.
Public access to the area is prohibited and motorists should expect traffic disruptions on Maligne Lake Road.
As long as the ground remains frozen, the work will continue seven days a week, including past daylight hours, until March 15.