Nisbet Forest Protective Strategies Working Group

Responding to the increasing occurrence and severity of fires in the wildland-urban interface, the City of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, has taken a multifaceted approach to preventing, monitoring, and informing citizens about forest fires. After a near-miss with a forest fire in 2002, fire-caused mass evacuation to Prince Albert in 2015, and the devastation caused by the 2016 Fort McMurray fire (another city situated in the Northern Boreal Forest landscape), Prince Albert reached out to partners in multiple sectors in order to achieve an all-hazards emergency response plan.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The City of Prince Albert is the largest municipality in Northern Saskatchewan with a population of 35,000 people. Situated in a area of mixed agricultural and forested landscape, it is at risk from fires in the wildland-urban interface. This risk is only increasing as time goes on and climate change increases fire season and severity and the forest sees declining health and increasing fire loads. The movement of people into the wildland urban interface also serves to increase exposure to this risk. The surrounding Nisbet Forest is home not just to houses and businesses, but also major government facilities including an airport, municipal park, and federal correctional facility. Much of the planning for this approach was informed by the experiences of other Northern communities, such as La Ronge and Fort McMurray, that experienced a major fire in and around their community. The planners also recognized that if an evacuation of the city prove necessary then a few minutes could be the difference between life and death for its citizens and has invested in a fire identification and mass warning system.

Identifying Actions

In an effort to increase readiness to respond to fires in the region, the Nisbet Forest Protective Strategies Working Group was formed. This is a collaborative effort between multiple organizations, including multiple municipalities, wildfire personnel, Ministry of Environment staff, forest services staff, and other key players for emergency services and fire safety in the region. The insurance industry is also an active member, with multiple local brokers and the Saskatchewan Government Insurance contributing expertise as well. Recognizing the integral role of informing the homeowners and citizens of the area on what dangers are posed by wildfire, as well as means of preventing the spread of fire onto one’s property, the working group hosted a local barbecue and information session on National Wildfire Community preparedness day.

Implementation

There were multiple approaches used to increase fire (and other disaster) resilience in the region. The first was to reach out to and establish bonds between multiple involved groups with the creation of the Nisbet Forest Protective Strategies working group, bringing in expertise from many sectors and improving communication and collaboration throughout the region. Another key feature of the program was to implement a program of fuel management in the forest. Recognizing that roughly half of all forest fires in the region are started by lightning strikes, the group reached out to Ubimet, an international weather service provider, in order to gain access to a lightning-detection system that would alert the group and its members of any potentially fire-igniting lightning strikes in the region. This allows for the quick identification and monitoring of potential issues. This early-warning approach was further enhanced with the implementation of the mass-notification system called PA Alert. This is all-hazards voluntary program that allows people to log on to the system and provide information of the location of properties at risk, allowing for targeted or mass notifications as the situation dictates.

Next Steps

The City of Prince Albert is considering making FireSmart methods an integral component of new development in the area, but that has not yet been ratified as an official bylaw yet.

Resources


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The City of Prince Albert is the largest municipality in Northern Saskatchewan with a population of 35,000 people. Situated in a area of mixed agricultural and forested landscape, it is at risk from fires in the wildland-urban interface. This risk is only increasing as time goes on and climate change increases fire season and severity and the forest sees declining health and increasing fire loads. The movement of people into the wildland urban interface also serves to increase exposure to this risk. The surrounding Nisbet Forest is home not just to houses and businesses, but also major government facilities including an airport, municipal park, and federal correctional facility. Much of the planning for this approach was informed by the experiences of other Northern communities, such as La Ronge and Fort McMurray, that experienced a major fire in and around their community. The planners also recognized that if an evacuation of the city prove necessary then a few minutes could be the difference between life and death for its citizens and has invested in a fire identification and mass warning system.

Identifying Actions

In an effort to increase readiness to respond to fires in the region, the Nisbet Forest Protective Strategies Working Group was formed. This is a collaborative effort between multiple organizations, including multiple municipalities, wildfire personnel, Ministry of Environment staff, forest services staff, and other key players for emergency services and fire safety in the region. The insurance industry is also an active member, with multiple local brokers and the Saskatchewan Government Insurance contributing expertise as well. Recognizing the integral role of informing the homeowners and citizens of the area on what dangers are posed by wildfire, as well as means of preventing the spread of fire onto one’s property, the working group hosted a local barbecue and information session on National Wildfire Community preparedness day.

Implementation

There were multiple approaches used to increase fire (and other disaster) resilience in the region. The first was to reach out to and establish bonds between multiple involved groups with the creation of the Nisbet Forest Protective Strategies working group, bringing in expertise from many sectors and improving communication and collaboration throughout the region. Another key feature of the program was to implement a program of fuel management in the forest. Recognizing that roughly half of all forest fires in the region are started by lightning strikes, the group reached out to Ubimet, an international weather service provider, in order to gain access to a lightning-detection system that would alert the group and its members of any potentially fire-igniting lightning strikes in the region. This allows for the quick identification and monitoring of potential issues. This early-warning approach was further enhanced with the implementation of the mass-notification system called PA Alert. This is all-hazards voluntary program that allows people to log on to the system and provide information of the location of properties at risk, allowing for targeted or mass notifications as the situation dictates.

Next Steps

The City of Prince Albert is considering making FireSmart methods an integral component of new development in the area, but that has not yet been ratified as an official bylaw yet.

Resources