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Forecasting forest fires in Canada

Chris Dawson, reporter

May 17, 2011 — According to Natural Resources Canada, there are 8,000 to 9,000 forest fires every year in our country and the average area burned is around 2.5 million hectares. Researchers in the forest fire field believe weather is the primary factor affecting the fire environment.

Thousands of forest fires are sparked each year in Canada
Thousands of forest fires are sparked each year in Canada

Natural Resource Canada Fire Research scientists have been studying the effects of weather on forest fires for decades. Canada has been a pioneer in forest fire research since the early 1970’s and has developed the Global Early Warning System, or EWS, for Wild Land Fire.

“There’s only a handful of these national danger rating systems that are available around the world and the Canadian System is the one most widely used system around the world,” says Bill De Groot, a fire research scientist. “As a matter of fact we are creating global fire danger maps for all the world now for the global warning system for wild land fire.”

Some of the most detailed research on forest fires and weather is being done in Canada. About 10 percent of the world’s forests are located in this country.

Firefighters are preparing for what could be another active fire season in Canada
Firefighters are preparing for what could be another active fire season in Canada

Fire research scientists believe it’s crucial for forest fire management agencies across Canada to have this forecasting information.

“Weather is such an important driver of the fire regime, and it’s the information about how dry the forest is and what type of fire activity we can expect, that’s the type of information fire managers use to decide how many fire fighters do I need today and how many air tankers and how many helicopters,” says De Groot. “And they use that information to figure out where they are going to pre-position those resources around the landscape so they have maximum coverage for the day.”

Information from the Global EWS allows fire crews on the front line to know what they are up against on a daily basis.

If you live in an area surrounded by brush, grassland or forests, government officials recommend that you follow these steps to prepare your home and family for wildfire potential.

  • Prepare an emergency kit.
  • Check for, and remove, fire hazards in and around your home, such as dried out branches, leaves and debris.
  • Keep a good sprinkler in an accessible location.
  • Have fire drills with your family on a regular basis.
  • Have an escape plan so that all members of the family know how to get out of the house quickly and safely.
  • Make sure every floor and all sleeping areas have smoke detectors.
  • Consult with your local fire department about making your home fire-resistant.

For more information on the potential for fires in your region, be sure to check The Weather Network's Forest Fire Watch.

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