Comprehensive, Sustained Wildfire Mitigation

As far back as 2005, the Town of Canmore has undertaken wildfire mitigation strategies through the application of FireSmart principles and practice. Nestled in the scenic bow valley on the Eastern fringes of the Rocky Mountains, Canmore is surrounded by woodlands on all sides and, therefore, quite exposed to the risk of wildfire in the wildland-urban interface. There has been a longstanding tradition of forward-looking fire management practices, with fire hazard assessments being conducted as early as 1993. Importantly, the Town of Canmore has embraced all seven of the FireSmart disciplines: education, emergency planning, vegetation management, legislation, development, interagency cooperation and cross-training. There are numerous examples of these disciplines in action to draw on. For example, there has been a ban on flammable roofing material for residential developments in the Town since 1999. Canmore is also collaborating with a wide variety of partnering organizations drawn from the local, provincial, and federal levels. It has also worked hard to provide training for fire officials and education and outreach programs for the public in general. While these measures have not yet been put to the test by a wildfire that affects the town directly, they nevertheless can be said to have substantially improve the readiness and resilience of the Town of Canmore to wildfires.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Vegetation management involves a number of fuel management options, including fuel removal, fuel reduction and species conversion. Maintaining the recommended non-combustible zone around homes can go a long way by reducing the chances of wildfire spread from wind-blown embers. Incorporating FireSmart requirements in legislation tackles the issue from the planning and development angle and promotes more consistent implementation throughout municipalities. Ensuring that development standards support neighbourhood growth that espouses FireSmart design and building materials is important. Interagency cooperation ensures that professional wildfire responders are involved in the planning process, but also residents, industry and other government and non-government partners. Also, cross-training allows emergency response teams from different firefighting disciplines to share knowledge and expertise and to work together to combat the common threat. Wildfires know no jurisdictional boundaries, making collaboration key to successfully reducing risk. The Town of Canmore has been applying FireSmart mitigation measures for over 15 years, embracing all seven of the major FireSmart disciplines: education, emergency planning, vegetation management, legislation, development, interagency cooperation and cross-training. Through the education and heightened awareness of community residents and professionals, a grassroots movement can emerge to drive FireSmart programs. Because multiple agencies are usually involved, it is important that roles and responsibilities are clear and that resources are deployed efficiently.

Identifying Actions

Canmore, located west of Calgary and nestled in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, is a typical wildland urban interface community. It is surrounded by the Municipal District of Bighorn and is adjacent to Banff National Park. The Town’s move towards developing a wildfire mitigation strategy was fueled by a desire to be proactive in tackling the wildfire threat, which became more obvious in 1993 when Partners in Protection conducted a hazard assessment. Another major precursor to the Town’s Mitigation Strategy was the creation of the Bow Corridor Ecosystem Advisory Group in 1998. The Bow Corridor is the Greater Bow Valley Area from Lake Louise to Exshaw, Kananaskis, along which the Bow River lies. The advisory group consisted of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Department, Canmore Fire Rescue, Parks Canada and MD Bighorn. Following this move was a change in 1999 to the Town’s land use by-law, to require the use of fire-rated roofing material on all new construction. The Bow Corridor Wildland Urban Interface Plan, with jurisdictional relevance for areas from the Banff National Park boundary to Lac Des Arcs within MD Bighorn was created. Then, in 2000, the original plan was used to develop a town plan, which was updated in 2010 and 2018. After recommendations came out of the review/updated plan in 2018, Canmore built a structure protection unit with hoses, sprinkler systems and pumps needed to help protect structures from advancing wildfire. These enable the Town to set up a perimeter sprinkler line. Sprinkler line locations are mapped out in the wildfire pre-plan. The sprinklers can also be used to wet down people’s decks, yards and roofs to help mitigate impingement by embers that might land on structures in the community. The Town is currently working with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Alberta Parks and Alberta Wildlife to develop a Bow Valley-wide vegetation management strategy, in order to apply a holistic approach to not only decrease wildfire threat but to also improve vegetation where wildlife can thrive


In an effort to quantify the wildfire hazard and risk and to start mitigating those risks, Stew Walkinshaw, the Town’s consultant, used the seven FireSmart disciplines. Implementing the FireSmart program required a collaborative effort that is ongoing. Within the town itself, the Fire Department works with Planning and Development, the Parks Department, Town Council and Town administration. The town has a lot of provincial lands within its boundary, which necessitates work with Agriculture and Forestry and Alberta Parks. The Fire Department trained its staff in FireSmart home assessment procedures and engaged residents in the program. A significant aspect of the mitigation strategy has been the engagement of community and homeowners in creating FireSmart zones for their protection. This engagement involved public forums, where the public is made aware of their level of risk and practical steps that can be taken to reduce it. According to Canmore’s Deputy Fire Chief Keri Martens, it is important to nurture a good relationship with the Planning and Development department within the municipality, in order to ensure the success of any wildfire mitigation plan. She further explained that maintaining a good relationship with this department will ensure that vegetation management and other FireSmart activities are implemented at all levels of municipal government and that all departments are of one accord. It is also imperative to have the leadership and support from elected officials in Council and the administrative team. This unity of purpose has to filter down to other departments in the Town.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

One important outcome has been the reduction in combustible roofing materials seen around town. There has been about 350 hectares of vegetation management completed by the Town, province and developers in the area. There have also been multiple public education campaigns, workshops and forums with the Town of Canmore staff and residents. Firesmart home assessments have been offered for two years now, free of charge for anyone who contacts the fire department. Residents seem well informed and are keen to see FireSmart activities succeed.