`Low’ fire danger as Jasper moves into summer
June 29, 2023 By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh
Jasper’s summer has started with a sigh of relief as the rain and snow of last week’s storm have done much to dress down the fire danger rating.“It certainly was a pretty extreme spring,” said Fire Management Officer Katie Ellsworth. “We are now in a `low’ fire danger rating.”
There are no active wildfires currently in Jasper National Park. Notably, a weather system that came through starting late on June 18 produced approximately 55 centimetres of snow in parts of the national park and more than 100 mm of rain.
That snowfall caught most people by surprise with many people trapped temporarily up Miette Road as part of the road washed out. Parks Canada crews are still catching up to repairs and maintenance including the substantial breakage of many trees.
“Parks Canada would like to send our sincere thank you to everyone involved in responding to this snowstorm and its aftermath, and for the patience of visitors whose plans may have been impacted. Parks Canada staff went above and beyond to respond to all corners of Jasper National Park,” said Dave Argument, resource conservation manager with Jasper National Park.
He said that Parks Canada’s trail crew has been working tirelessly to clear “thousands of trees” that came down.
“To put this into perspective, in one day the crew cleared 20 km of trails on the Pyramid Bench and surrounding areas, but in that 20km there were 575 trees down. In most cases, these are trails that the crew had already conducted spring clearing on, which now require a return visit.
“There’s a long road ahead and we appreciate visitors’ and residents’ patience and understanding as we make our way across front country trails in the coming weeks, and backcountry trails in the coming months.”
The storm behind us, intermittent rain has allowed the area to ease into what is typically the height of wildfire season: July and August.
“We’re seeing more moderated increase in our indices, which should be more consistent with a typical early summer progression up the fire danger chain, if you will,” Ellsworth said.
She explained that information is collected from six weather stations scattered throughout different elevations and at different positions within the park in order to achieve “a balanced perspective” on what the weather is doing.
The fire danger rating level is based on five major indices in the Fire Danger Rating System, which are all based on historic and current weather patterns. These indices are weather condition, temperature, relative humidity, precipitation and wind. The weather indices are then checked daily.
“We take the weather and take the indices, and we use that to gauge how we’re discussing the fire danger in Jasper,” Ellsworth said.
Even though Jasper National Park had a lightning storm blow through last weekend, the concern for a lightning-caused fire was minimal.
“Receptivity to lightning strikes is based on the Duff Moisture Code,” Ellsworth said.
“It’s based on these medium-sized fuels. There’s a threshold where we really are thinking about the potential for lightning ignition. It’s important to understand that Jasper is in a well-documented lightning shadow.
“Although we do get some lightning here, we certainly don’t have as robust a lightning regime or have a program that’s focused on lightning starts as much as you would see High Level or the north or places in the Boreal.”
“Once we see that the thresholds in our Duff Moisture Codes are reaching that level where we’re thinking that there could be lightning holdovers, we are looking for lightning strikes,” she added.
“However, the majority of the fires in Jasper are human-caused.”
As Jasper moves into July, Parks Canada will also pre-position a helicopter in Jasper based on the typical fire season in the mountains.
“We’re in constant contact with the Parks Canada national duty officer to weigh the relative fire danger risk in Jasper, which does take into account our visitation, seasonality, mountain pine beetle impacts to our fuels and best decisions are made at that point,” Ellsworth said.
“Right now, because of the rain and snow event that we had last week, it’s going to take a while until we’re even out of low fire danger at this point.”
Around Alberta, that wet weather has proved to be a godsend for crews on the warfront of the province’s wildfire situation. With abundant rain and even a fair bit of snow in areas, Alberta has seemingly come to a manageable position on what has so far been its worst wildfire season ever.
As of Tuesday, the only evacuation order that remains in effect is for Little River Cree Nation — Fox Lake with the number of evacuees totaling 2,752.
According to the Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard, there are 83 active wildfires of a total of 697 for the year. Only 12 of those 83 wildfires are considered “out of control,” the two largest of which — SWF063 at 124,000 ha and SWF068 at 132,000 ha — are in the Slave Lake Forest Area.
Those two were both determined to be caused by lightning. So far in 2023, 178 wildfires were lightning-related while 400 were caused by humans. There are still 119 that are under investigation.
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