FireSmart management being applied around Banff this winter

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Parks Canada and Town of Banff crews are actively managing forest vegetation throughout the winter months to lower risks of wildfire to infrastructure around town.

One of many tree branches cut for the project was tossed on top of a burning woodpile by a Parks Canada firefighter at Banff’s Fenland Trail Day Use Area on Nov. 9.

With chainsaws humming in hand, the three-person crew removed an abundance of forest branches and wood debris along the snow-covered woods trail as part of FireSmart management activities.

“This is one area they have been working on for the couple of few years,” said Jane Park, fire and vegetation specialist at Parks Canada, speaking about thinning and appropriately managing vegetation in the area.

“But we’ve also got fuel management projects up near Valleyview, behind the community of Valleyview and below Mountain Avenue, as well by the Spray River near the golf course, (that) we’re going to be completing this winter.”

In addition, Banff crews are also focusing on Middle Springs and Cave Avenue, near the Parks administration building, the Fenlands area along the tracks and a section above the Banff Centre near one of the water reservoirs.

The community can expect to see a bit of smoke in different areas, but crews will focus on burning debris in “good venting conditions.”

FireSmart management activities being completed are “one piece of the puzzle,” said Park.

“It’s an important tool right in the interface and (…) it fits into the larger landscape program of fuel management, prescribed fire and larger fuel management blocks that we can put across the landscape to make it a bit more resilient to wildfires.”

Parks Canada is working alongside Canadian Forest Service, Town of Banff and a number of other national parks to research wildfire risk modeling around the townsite and adjacent national parks.

“So, basically we’re looking at different fuel management and fire management practices to see how we can reduce risk to the communities in the area,” said Park.

Earlier this year, the people of Banff were on alert as gray clouds of Verdant Creek wildfire smoke pushed into town from the west and polluted the Bow Valley for about half the summer.

At one point, the fire was “out of control” and only 24 kilometres away from Banff (as the crow flies) and 2.5 km away from Sunshine Village. Visibility issues along Highway 93 South due to thick smoke caused several temporary closures on the highway.

After days and weeks of crews battling the flames, the wildfire spread south along the Continental Divide and away from communities and valuables.

“If Verdant Creek had made its way down the valley, we would have been dealing with ember fires and that’s what really takes out communities, if you look at Fort McMurray, for example,” said Silvio Adamo, Town of Banff fire chief and director of protective services. “It’s not flame impingement that burns a community down, it’s the embers floating in from a kilometre away that start these structure fires.”

Last year, Banff received $86,000 to maintain some of the 53 hectares of forest fuel areas within town, and this year, the Town is working on a $91,000 grant to maintain other FireSmart areas.

Adamo said they are always working on FireSmart activities around town and have started to see consistant grant funding from the province to continue the clearing work that started in 2004.

“We’re also working with a grant that we’re developing with FireSmart public education from the province and rolling it out this spring,” said Adamo.

For those interested in falled wood from the fuel management services, Parks is issuing permits for the collection of firewood.

“Any folks who want to do that can show up at the compound and request a permit for collection of fire wood so we reduce the amount we burn on site,” said Park.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook