Short-term flames bring new life
to Yoho National Park.
LAST SUMMER A FIRE RIPPED THROUGH YOHO NATIONAL PARK, consuming 1,700 hectares of Canada’s second oldest national park. The staff couldn’t have been happier.
“It looked like a volcano exploded,” says UVic Biology and Geography Co-op student Andrew Greig, who helped ignite the 100-metre high flames during a work term with Parks Canada. “When the fire was going everyone sat back and watched—it was just wild.”
The fire, the largest prescribed burn carried out in Yoho, paradoxically helped save the forests it consumed. By eliminating tinder-like fuel, burned sections act as guards against wildfires. At the same time, by promoting diverse growth and injecting nutrients into the soil, prescribed burns help clear the single-species forests that attract disease and pests.
The fire was the result of almost four years of preparation. “People think we go in and throw matches at the forest, but there’s a huge amount of planning before the ignition,” says Greig.
The weather has to be perfect, and the fuel must be neither too wet nor too dry so the fire burns properly and minimizes ecological damage. The site was chosen to block a mountain pine beetle infestation. It will also serve as a fireguard to protect the nearby town of Field and the surrounding timberlands from large wildfires.
Several avalanche chutes acted as anchors for the fire and along with on-site preparation—removing fuel from the perimeters of the major blaze—helped guide the fire’s path.
Having helped start the blaze with a diesel- and gasoline-fueled drip torch, Greig, an avid backcountry hiker, didn’t feel bad when he saw the trees burn.
“When people see a big canopy fire, they assume it’s out of control. In reality, the fire had actually gone as smoothly as possible. In order for the forest to stay healthy fires are utterly necessary. Without fire, the cycle of rebirth of the forest couldn’t happen.”
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