Minutes from the Wildland Fire Operations Research Group

Advisory Committee Meeting


November 6, 2003

Northern Forestry Centre

Edmonton, Alberta


Meeting commenced at 0845


Introductions and Attendees


Alan Westhaver (Parks Canada - Jasper)

Marty Alexander (Canadian Forestry Service)

Don Podlubny (Foothills Model Forest)

Brent Schleppe (SRD)

Keng Chung (Syncrude)

Warren Kehr (Weldwood)

Con Dermott (Vanderwell)

Ted Szabo (Alberta Innovation and Science)

Terry Dixon (Flying Tankers Inc)

Brian Low (Parks Canada – Banff)

Daryl Jessop (Forest Protection – Saskatchewan)

Alex Sinclair (FERIC)

Mark Coolen (Millar Western)

Dennis Driscoll (SRD)

Keith McClain (SRD)

Rick Lanoville (NWT)

Rory Thompson (FERIC)

Kris Johnson (FERIC – Saskatchewan Forest Centre)

Marv Clark (FERIC)

Craig Nyrose (ATCO Electric)

Greg Baxter (FERIC)

Gary Dakin (FERIC)

Dave Schroeder (FERIC)

Ray Ault (FERIC)

Rex Hsieh (FERIC)

Vince Eggleston (ALPAC)

Richard Covlin (Air Spray)

Clara Qualizza (Syncrude)

Mark Ackerman (U of Alberta)


1.Acceptance of Minutes from last Advisory Committee Meeting in March 2003.

Accepted by Con Dermott, Seconded by Daryl Jessop.


  1. Kris Johnson – Saskatchewan Forest Centre.


Started by describing the Saskatchewan Forest Centre: Non-profit Corporation with 3 Units.


Described Time Breakdown of Duties for 2003.


Activities and Accomplishments:

Detection review

•Community risk assessment

• Landscape laboratory

•Participation in projects as needed



Work in Progress:


Completed Projects:


3. WFORG  - projects not completed  and not on the agenda for detailed discussion at this meeting. (Ray Ault)


Summaries were sent out at the back of the Spring Meeting Minutes sent to everyone for this meeting.


PPS – technical delay – comments from paper led to some format changes.

(Q )– Alex Sinclair asked when this will be out. (A): Spring 2004.


NWT Community Fire Protection – worked on ATV, thinning, detection and pile project research.


Travel Rates – Interim report out – finished data collection this summer. Video of Methodology not completed due to a large number of fires and lack of crews.


IR Technologies – Report on final edit. June 2004 completion date.


Lost Creek Fire – IR sensor testing using Judi Becks methodology.


Water Delivery (tanks) – March 2004 completion date.


4. Discussion of Ongoing Research Projects

a) Fuels Management Workshop (Rory Thompson)




Well attended Workshop with many contacts made.


(Q) – Marty Alexander – What knowledge gaps were identified? (A): FireSmart – thinning – is the 3 m gap appropriate. New vegetation problems.


(Q) – Brian Low – how much /hour for the Bull? – (A) – smaller machine ~ $250/hour.


Comment – Don Podlubny – should add Dave Andison to Linear Disturbance Steering Committee.


b) Linear Disturbance (Greg Baxter)


First Steering Committee meeting today following Advisory Meeting. Invitations to those where Linear Disturbance important.


c) Comparison of Skimmer Aircraft to Heavy Helicopters (S-64) (Rory Thompson)

 Rory presented the specs for the Skycrane, CL-215/415 and the Martin Mars including the cost/hour for each and delivery of each.


Major variables for S-64: distance to fuel, but more importantly is the distance to the fire from the water source (<= 3km). From fuel should not exceed 16 km. Will delivery more water than the CL-215/415 if distance to water is less than 9.6 km and fuel is not farther than 16 km.


Martin Mars delivered the most water at the least cost. Muskeg lakes may cause problems for water pickup due to mud for the S-64.


(Q) – Don Podlubny – is time to refuel included in calculations? (A) – included in program.


(Q) why is Martin Mars included in study? (A) it is a scooper aircraft occasionally used in Alberta.


d) Accumulated Fatigue (Ray Ault)


This is a CIFFC driven project.


Objective - determine field tests to be used to identify potential fatigue in firefighters and Overhead team members. Also to identify personality traits that can be used in hiring to identify how people handle stress.


Completed a literature study (is on web) and found Missoula Technology Development Centre (MTDC) has completed 3 comprehensive literature searches on the subject. These were used as foundations to form research on.


Brought together a group of Human Performance Experts to discuss project and to design a Pilot Study for summer of 2003. They put together a series of 8 tests which could be piloted. This would be followed by field testing in 2004.



The testing of the pilot studies would cost $100,000. It was decided to postpone pilot until 2004 so CIFFC’s Resource Management Working Group (RMWG) could go through study and raise money.


Dennis Driscoll (SRD)  -  $100,000 is expensive – who’s going to pay? Also – other directions in study.


S&T group - $10,000; Saskatchewan group? Look into further funding.


(Q) – Marty Alexander: what level is this for? Crew leader/ff? (A): firefighters and overhead.


Comment: Don Podlubny – Ask WCB for $. This is a medical/disability issue.


e) ATV (Greg Baxter)

A background for the study was presented. This covered the request from SRD for the quick study, the fire history study, hypothesis of how ATV’s cause fires and some recommendations from the Advantage Report.


Objectives of the 2003 study were to: physically demonstrate the fire ignition process, work with manufacturers and produce recommendations. Little came from the contact with manufacturers. Data was collected in three ways: temperatures were collected over 16 days from the surface of ATV exhaust systems, a survey of ATV users was undertaken and two field rides with instrumented ATV’s were done.


Two ignitions of debris occurred on the field rides. These occurred in the muskeg on the exhaust systems and temperature data was collected at the same sites. This information showed the length of time required to dry and ignite fuels and the temperatures where ignition took place. This years study fulfilled the objectives originally set in the study and the group determined the information should be turned over to SRD and they would approach the manufacturers to mitigate this problem. This should close this project.


A draft report has been completed and the Advantage Report will be published in March 2004.


f) Thinning and Fire Behaviour (Dave Schroeder)


Dave presented his work that took place this summer in Banff (Fairholme Bench). He started by describing the sites, location, topography and thinning regime. He presented a chart showing stems/ha, the fuel load, CBD and the critical ROS required for a crown fire.


Dave then presented some photos showing the plots after the burn with directions of spread of the fire through the plots.


Unfortunately, the fire took place without FERIC’s presence, but valuable information was collected from the site.


Collaborators on the project were FERIC, Parks Canada and the SRD.


Fuel load data was also collected around Jasper townsite. Two plots were marked and data collected in the NWT.


An Advantage Report will be prepared from information collected at Bear Lake (near Kelwona). A literature review is now underway looking at windthrow. This is taking place through the FERIC office in Montreal  . New study sites have been located in Yoho and through the SRD.


(Q) Alex Sinclair – is Bear Lake the Kelowna site and what about the Vanderwell plots.  (A) – no work was done with Vanderwell this summer due to wildfire commitments, but work will continue next summer (2004).


Con Dermott – look at understory protection with windthrow – data from Hotchkiss. Also should contact Steve Mitchell from UBC on this subject.


g) Detection Technology (Dave Schroeder)


A good summer of progress in this project.



3 video based systems evaluated in 2003:

Forestwatch by Envirovision Solutions (South Africa)

Firewatch by IQ-Wireless (Germany)

Manually operated system by Norsat (Edmonton).

Test sites – Edson, AB, Lac La Biche, AB, and Prince Albert SK.


Automated system function:


Video camera scans landscape.

Images are analyzed with motion detection algorithms.

Systems are monitored remotely.  An operator can monitor up to 12 cameras.

Smoke location identified by triangulation or GIS-image integration.


System function - software:

Confirm if smoke or false alarm

Locate smoke on digital map

Alert dispatch personnel


GIS integration:

Bearing to smoke indicated on map.  Intersection of 2 bearings allows rapid triangulation.

Forestwatch also uses a digital elevation model to calculate distance to smoke from a single camera.

Display relevant info  - e.g., burn permit locations, lightning strikes, fire hazard conditions



Systems can detect wildfire smoke (0.01 ha) at 40 km range.

360o viewshed scan is 6 – 12 minutes.

A dedicated operator is needed (monitor up to 12 cameras).




Use existing communications towers.

No construction cost.

Mount camera higher than tallest manned tower (300’ versus 120’).

1 operator manages up to 12 cameras.

Night vision – 24 hr. monitoring possible.

Real time images available in dispatch office or across internet.

Confirm publicly reported fires.

Other uses (e.g., landslides, poachers).


Costs were also presented: ranging from $15 – 42 (thousand) annual cost for 5 cameras over 5 years.


Next steps:


Advantage report – Winter 2004

Proposals for pilot installations – December 2004

Alberta: Lac La Biche

Saskatchewan: Cypress Hills

Installation: Spring 2004

Ambient controls: Infrared sensor

Log deck monitoring

Automated sprinkler system

NWT: smoke generation from 0.01 ha plots


Marty Alexander – regarding the size of column detectable: they tested lookouts in High Level and found towers could spot a 10x10 m fire @ 40 km distance 10 minutes following ignition. (If they knew it was coming).


Brian Low – the technology is good and could have use in Banff.


h) Sprinklers (Ray Ault)


FERIC looked at sprinklers with nine objectives in mind. Five were presented. A literature search found very little on the subject on how and why they work. Sprinklers used effectively in two provinces – Ontario and Saskatchewan. There now appears to be a mindset by the public, that sprinklers are expected on buildings if a structure is threatened.


The use of sprinklers requires abundant water resources.

We need to find a method of achieving structure protection without creating a logistic nightmare. Obvious that sprinkler success is increased if homeowners have treated adjacent fuels.


Sprinklers are used effectively as control lines for prescribed burning.


Ray then presented information on how structures ignite and burn. This happens three ways:


Direct flame contact

Radiant heat



1.      Quantify the application time and volume of water needed to increase fuel moisture to reduce ignition potential. Data was collected on rate of water delivery to reduce the BUI from 42 to 20 (40 mm of rain equivalent precipitation). Also found that little water is required to stop grass fires – basically a fast wetting – but sprinklers need to overlap or fire will sneak through! Wind has a big influence on the ‘footprint’ of sprinklers.

2.      Describe microclimate created by sprinkler systems and their influence on ignition potential and fire spread. FERIC collected data on this and found for the length of our test a humidity dome did not develop.

3.      Identify a low cost alternative pump to the Mark 3 that can be purchased by homeowners. FERIC tested a Honda pump ($750) which produced reasonable results.

4.      Develop guidelines for the set up, operation and maintenance of sprinkler systems on the fireline. Used in-fire cameras in prescribed burns to derive recommendations for set-up. Found: Supply lines are subject to failure when subjected to intense heat. Continued sprinkler operation might suppress residual small fires. Radiant heat is intensified when forest next to structure.

5.      Determine conditions under which sprinkler systems are an effective wildfire control line.


Also looked at large diameter hose and misting of structures using a hose with punctures in it.


Break for Lunch.


i) Debris Disposal (Greg Baxter)


Work to Date:

Slash fire history

SE Slopes

House River Case Study

East-Central Recommendations

West-Central and North reports completed – awaiting clearance of East-Central report.


Current Work:

Physical Data collection (Heart Lake, NWT, Peace River data) – these can be used for pile-to-pile distances.

East-central recommendations

Talking with industry about potential equipment trials and experimental burning.


Fuel Management Working Group:

Part of group working to put together interim policy for debris management. Primarily dealing with aspen fuels.


Possible Trials:

The “Bull” – a mulcher that may have a use for debris management.

Debris Bundler

Experimental burning – various fuel arrangements.


East-central report in Cliff Henderson’s hands and should be out soon. West-central and North recommendations finished, just awaiting the East-central report to be released.


5. New Project Proposals

Marv Clark then described the voting procedure for new projects and the equation used to calculate the proposals’ rankings. Group decided to hear all proposals before voting.


1.      Improving Prescribed Burning Success: Successful deliberate burning during wildfires and prescribed burns depends on ignition timing, technique and location.  Aerial ignition is a useful tool, however when conditions are sub- optimal, poor ignition can result in added spot fires that must be extinguished by ground crews.  An improved knowledge of the relationship between ignition success and fuel and weather indices (foliar moisture in particular) would help fire managers plan aerial ignition on active wild and prescribed fires.


Comments: Marty Alexander. Foliar moisture information exists. When ignition fails there are many other factors, such as line spacing. Use a test fire procedure first. Live vs. dead ratio is important. Ignition patterns also critical. Suggest putting together a group to direct project.

Con Dermott – the burning window is critical – on a large fire only get a few chances so have to do it.

Dennis Driscol – also used for prescribed burning.

Brent Schleppe – there are some simple solutions that should be looked at first such as aspect, etc.


2.      Determine optimum moisture levels and drying conditions for forestry hose. Forestry hose represents a significant financial investment by fire suppression agencies. The care and maintenance of forestry hose can directly affect the longevity and dependability of this important resource.  This project will help optimize Hose Refurbishment Operations by identifying a method to measure moisture content and develop guidelines on expected hose drying time for a given relative humidity and temperature.



Marty Alexander – isn’t this information already there. Probably have to compile it.

Alex Sinclair – wouldn’t San Dimas have this information.

Knowledge is there, but in big production it becomes complicated.

Saskatchewan has greenhouses that could be used for research.


3. Comparison of Cost and Benefits of Various Debris Management Practices. FERIC’s Advantage Report (to be published) for the East-central region of the province recommends that debris may be left on site if certain pile dimensions and spacing are met. The debris pile recommendations are based solely on potential fire behaviour. To the forest industry, other cost ramifications of the debris pile recommendations are important. Specifically, the cost of reforestation and wildlife issues are critical to industry’s decision- making process regarding debris management. This research proposal would fit in directly with the current work occurring at the WFORG, by looking at the debris management issue from other angles that include silviculture as well as fish and wildlife concerns.


The economics of current debris disposal practices are known to industry. They know how much it costs per hectare to harvest, pile and burn debris. Debris/cost data can be collected for a number of different species types and terrain influences. The research debris/cost data will be compared to that collected from trials of the alternative debris treatments proposed in the FERIC reports.



Al Westhaver – need to include wildlife concerns.

Con Dermott – wildlife one of many things looked at.


4. Guidelines to improve the fuel mix for drip torches. Aerial drip torches are used extensively for wildfire and prescribed burn operations. The viscosity of the gelled fuel used for aerial ignition needs to remain constant for successful operations. Changes in gelled fuel viscosity affects the speed of delivery and the ignition potential of the gelled fuel. Factors influencing the viscosity are fuel temperature, mix ratio and time between mixing and application.


Changes in viscosity can have an effect on the success of aerial ignition operations.  Identifying the elements that cause changes in fuel mixture can improve the success of aerial ignition operations.



Warren Kehr – industry also could use for pile burning during winter.

Don Podlubny – isn’t this a manufacturer’s problem?

Marty Alexander – information must be out there – other existing guidelines.

Dennis Driscol – Jet A/B. B not made now and A does not do well.


6.      Community protection tree thinning – identify the cost / benefits of various debris treatments. Increasingly, community fire protection will involve thinning forest stands adjacent to urban areas. Thinning forest stands increases the fuel loading on the ground unless the debris is treated. Current debris treatment options include pile and burn, mulch, chip or bundle and move. The different debris treatments can influence the maintenance requirements of the thinned stand.


Comments: many solutions in FireSmart – test them all.


5. Coal Seam Fire Literature Review

A number of coal seam fires continue to burn in the Foothills Forest Protection Area. These permanent fires date back to the start of coal mining in the early 1900’s. A number of countries have coal fires and considerable research is underway to develop techniques to suppress them. The coal seam fire project will gather and review pertinent literature on the subject.


Comments: a lot of work going on. Do literature search and pull together. Edson is interested.

Don Podlubny – with a seam fire there is a bigger concern of what is going on below the surface.

Marty Alexander – does not think they are put out.

Al Westhaver – these are long term burns or caused by wildfire.

Marty Alexander – need short and long term solutions.


6. Accumulated fatigue in Wildland Firefighters


In the fall of 2002 CIFFC Resource Management Working Group asked FERIC to develop a project investigating firefighter fatigue. During the spring and early summer of 2003 FERIC completed a literature search and met with experts in the human performance field to develop the framework for a pilot study into the fatigue for firefighters and incident command team members. Based on a review of the pilot study SRD has asked that the scope of the study has been redefined to address specific Alberta issues.


The two issues of interest to SRD are:


  1. Develop a tool or methodology that can be administered by an Incident Safety Officer to identify accumulated fatigue.
  2. Develop a tool that can be used in the recruitment / selection process to identify those individuals with characteristics that cope well with the level of decision making required in a modern fire operation.



Ted Szabo – this is health and risk. Go to ‘Medical Heritage Trust Fund’ for funding.


7. Fire risk related to coke disposal


Petroleum coke is a by-product of bitumen upgrading process that is currently used by Syncrude and Suncor. Petroleum coke is primarily carbon with small amounts of contaminants. It is chemically inert due to the highly severe coking process conditions. Currently, the daily oilsand coke production is more than 10,000 tons. The coke is being stockpiled due to lack of economically feasible coke utilization.


Recently, it was proposed to use oilsand coke for land reclamation for the dug out oilsand mines. Several research projects jointly sponsored by Syncrude and Suncor are underway to determine the impact of oilsands cokes and the ecosystem. Even though a comprehensive database on oilsands coke properties and combustion characteristics under well-defined conditions such as furnace or boiler, indicates that oilsands cokes are high refractory materials (low reactivity), it is not known how the cokes behave under forest fire conditions.



Keng Chung – a bi-product of oil extraction. 10,000 tons/day produced. Can cover over 7000 ha over x years. It will be stored on landscape.

Don Podlubny – ignition temperatures must be known – YES.


8. Compilation of Case Studies of fire reports from the Fire Behaviour Specialist Course. Alexander and Thomas (2003a, 2003b) have recently pointed out the value of wildfire case studies in safe and effective forest fire management.  Between 1996 and 2001, an annual Wildland Fire Behavior Specialist Course (WFBSC) was held at the Hinton Training Centre as part of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) national training program.  Each student was required to prepare a wildfire case study as part of the course requirement.  In total, some 160 wildfire case studies were prepared over a six year period.  These case studies represent a rich source of information for future use in both operations (e.g., by the overhead team fire behavior officer/specialist), training, and R&D (e.g., Prometheus model validation).  The objective is to compile and publish the existing WFBSC wildfire case studies in CD-ROM format.



Don Podlubny – will there be a key word search? Rex Hsieh - Could be set up that way.



6. Voting







Prescribed Burning Success















Drip torch










Coal Seam















Case Studies







7. Next Meeting: Thursday, March 18, 2004.


8. Alex Sinclair: New Members:


CN, ATCO, Aquila – working hard on. Parks Canada, Yukon Territory (wanted business case). BC – Minister of Forests/Communities – to see Gary Filmon. Forest Industry is still tied up.


Con Dermott – we are members of FERIC, but not WFORG yet.





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