Monday, February 20, 2012

Canadians need to prepare for more bigger, hotter fires

Margaret Munro in the Calgary Herald: Canadians need to brace for more wildfires that are too big and too hot to stop when using traditional fire fighting techniques. “It’s going to be incredibly difficult in the future to manage forest fires because the intensity of forest fires is going to be increasing,” said Mike Flannigan, a senior research scientist with Natural Resources Canada and professor at the University of Alberta.

His team’s latest research, presented here Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, predicts there will be two to three times more fire activity in the northern hemisphere by the end of the century. “Virtually all of Russia, Canada, the U.S.” will be impacted, said Flannigan, who suggested the analysis may be conservative. “We are going to see more fire in (the) future, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “A warmer world’s going to see more fire.”

Landscape fires around the world now burn an area bigger than India each year and contribute to an average of 339,000 deaths per year between 1997 and 2006, scientists reported. The toll is expected to climb markedly in coming decades, said Flannigan. He suggested the wildfires that swept through Slave Lake, Alta., last year and Kelowna, B.C., in 2003 give a glimpse of the kind of fire that is going to become much more common.

The Slave Lake fire, estimated to have caused more than $700 million in damage, forced thousands of people out of their homes. The Kelowna fire burned more than 200 homes causing an estimated $200 million in damage.

Flannigan used global climate models to predict fire severity around the globe between 2070 and 2090. He said that forests in most of the northern hemisphere will not only become drier as temperatures rise, but there is likely to be more lightening to spark fires. Add it all up and he said fires will become more intense and harder to stop....

During the first week of June 2009, Sustainable Resource Alberta burned nearly 8,000 hectares of forest in Western Alberta, just east of the Saskatchewan River Crossing on the Icefields Parkway and Highway 11. The forest was destroyed to bring about greater diversity, stem the spread of mountain pine beetle and to create a fire barrier for any future wild fires. Shot by Cameron Strandberg, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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