Fire Exposure and Adaptation in the Canadian Taiga
The approaches developed will help guide strategy decisions made by industry partners (Hydro-Québec, Manitoba Hydro) and communities in sub-Arctic regions regarding wildfire risk management.
The spread of wildfires into managed environments from surrounding forests is a growing concern. The catastrophic Fort McMurray fire in Alberta (May 2016) was the largest natural disaster in Canadian history. Forest fires are a particularly important risk factor in the northern boreal forest, and there is broad scientific consensus that total burned areas will increase with global warming.
Document the natural variability of the occurrence of fires in the area around the La Grande hydroelectric complex in northern Quebec
Map fire probabilities to quantify the exposure of infrastructure and communities in the years 2020 and 2049
Apply the expertise developed in Quebec to the similar context of northern Manitoba
Systematic field sampling was done to measure the frequency and size of fires over the past 200 years.
We mapped the probabilities of fires in the area of the La Grande complex in terms of climate and combustible fuel scenarios.
Fire probability maps were compared to the positioning of infrastructure to identify key areas where infrastructure and communities could be impacted by fires.
The area around the La Grande complex is characterized by a great deal of fire activity. Fires at least 50 km long have occurred regularly since at least 1850 (Figure R1). Fire rates increase with forest age, with the distance from large bodies of water and with the size of mature forest stands. However, major fires can occur anywhere. The triangle bounded by the communities of Radisson, Chisasibi and Wemindji is characterized by particularly high fire probabilities (Figure R2). The risk of interactions between fires and infrastructure may be much greater if climate change predictions come true, with about twice as many fires reaching infrastructure in 2049 compared to 2020. The fire probability map for northern Manitoba also shows an area with a high probability of fires where a great deal of infrastructure is concentrated.
Figure R1. Large size and high frequency of fires for 200 years along a 340 km segment of the Billy Diamond Highway and a 300 km segment of the Trans-Taiga Road. The years correspond to fires over 50 km in diameter.
Figure R2. Comparison of fire probability maps for the years 2020 and 2049. The white square delimits the area with the highest probability of fires, where the communities of Radisson, Chisasibi and Wemindji are located.
Benefits for adaptation
Benefits for adaptation
This study provides important findings to help decision-makers manage catastrophic fire risks. The chances are extremely high that major fires will occur in the short to medium term, particularly in the area of the communities of Radisson, Chisasibi and Wemindji.
Vulnerable infrastructure should be disconnected from large masses of mature forests by cutting conifers according to the FireSmart principles. If possible, new infrastructure should be built at sites that are less exposed to fires.
Widespread suppression of fire activity would lead to the development of large areas of mature forest and a long-term increase in the likelihood of catastrophic fires.
This project is funded by the Government of Quebec and meets the objectives of the Plan pour une économie verte 2030.
Service canadien des forêts
Université du Québec en Abitibi-Temiscamingue (UQAT)