Fighting Fire with Fire: Investigating Prescribed Burns for Fuel and Fire Management in Northeast Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario
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Uncontrolled wildfires occur in Ontario and across Canada each year, typically during the fire season from April 1 to September 30. Fire suppression in protected areas and property (private, Crown land) coupled with warmer and drier summers are causing increased hazardous conditions that add fuel to the fire and result in more intense and prolonged wildfires. Park managers realize that fire plays a significant role in maintaining the health of a boreal ecosystem and reducing flammable forest fuels. Prescribed burning is one practice that can regenerate fire-dependent ecosystems, reduce hazardous fuels, reduce wildfire spread, and protect values. The objective of this research is to develop and test a methodology for modeling the potential of prescribed burns to serve as regional fire breaks. This method will be suitable for parks and protected areas, particularly those with flammable fuels close to their boundaries and ensure that fire does not spread beyond their jurisdiction. Park managers that implement fire as a tool in managing the landscape and permitting prescribed natural fires may find interest in the results of this proposed fire break method. The research study area is Quetico Wilderness Provincial Park, a park that successfully integrated the use of fire in their management strategies. However, it is anticipated that this method can be applied to other locations to regenerate fire-dependant ecosystems, reduce fuel and control wildfires. Five fire break designs were simulated using Prometheus fire growth modeling software. There was statistically less fire outside the barrier, compared to having no barrier in place. Factors influencing the effectiveness of each break included fire break size, number of years required to create the break, proximity to the park boundary and barrier compactness (fragmentation or continuity). The potential escape in wildfires and area burned varied significantly between fire break designs. In these simulations, a fire break is effective in reducing flammable fuels, regenerating boreal forest species and reducing the spread of and containing wildfires. It is evident that fire is an important factor in park management for maintaining ecosystem diversity. Regional fire breaks should be incorporated for fire and vegetation fuel management in parks. The use of software modeling should also be included with park operation.