Wildfire

Only you
can prevent forest fires.

Having grown up with Smokey the Bear‘s exhortations on public service announcements and on posters in American national parks, I was surprised in the 1970s by the notion that not all fires should be suppressed: that fire was both an inevitable and an indispensable player in the natural environment.  At that I was only three decades behind the ecologists, who had talked about this since the 1940s.  

The new plan [Ed’s note: implemented from 1972 to 1987] permitted some lightning-caused fires to burn under natural conditions; provided for suppressing fires that threatened human life, property, special natural features and historic and cultural sites; and recommended prescribed burns when and where necessary and practical to reduce hazard fuels.
Fire Management – Yellowstone National Park

Fire management strategies for national parks have continued to evolve in response to new understandings and to changing weather conditions.  It’s a complicated business.

But there wasn’t anything too complicated about the response to the lighting-caused wildfire that jumped from BC into Waterton Lakes National Park in September 2017, with flames 300 to 400 feet high coming down the Cameron Valley.  Firefighters from across Canada converged on the Park in an all-hands-on-deck attempt to limit the extent of the burn, and to save as much of the Park’s infrastructure as possible.

Two years later, scenic drives in the area are still closed to car traffic, and many walking trails are closed altogether.  On the other hand, the fire exposed previously unknown archaeological sites and activated the seeds of some conifers, which might allow a formerly widespread species to re-establish itself against non-native species.

As for photography, the fire opened up some far views and created some striking near vistas, if that’s possible.

Waterton Lakes vistas after the Kenow wildfireTrees burned in 2017 Kenow WidlfireFire damage to tree from Kenow Wildfire

 

6 Comments

  1. John Whitman

    Isabel – on the topic of naturally occurring wildfires. Several species of tree, including the lodgepole pine, require fire in order to propagate. That’s because their cones are completely sealed by resin and only break open with the heat of a fire.

    Other benefits of wildfires. 20 or more years ago a prairie fire swept over the Little Big Horn battlefield. After archeologists went in to assess the damage they discovered many more artifacts that had been hidden by the grass and brush. As a result, they were able to develop a much more detailed understanding of how the battle unfolded.

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