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  Steve Hvenegaard
Researcher

 
 
While growing up on the Alberta prairies, I witnessed several wildfires in grass and grain stubble during the dry and windy spring season. Controlled burning of heavy accumulations of grass around communities was common practice and I always enjoyed helping out with these burns. At that time, we didn't use terminology such as hazard abatement and strip ignition or measure fuel moisture content and wind speed to determine a fire's potential forward rate of spread. While people didn't talk about the fire behaviour triangle, most people had a good intuitive sense of factors that contributed to fire behaviour and chose appropriate conditions to conduct a burn safely. Wildfires often resulted from unattended garbage burning barrels or sparks from machinery or welders. Cured fuels combined with strong dry winds created potential for extreme fire behaviour conditions and the resulting fires were often quite phenomenal and devastating. I was fortunate to find seasonal firefighting work that provided opportunity for adventure, physical activity and continued learning about wildfire in a much different fuel environment.

While working with the Alberta Forest Service Junior Forest Ranger program, a Helitack (now Rapattack ) crew conducted a rappel demonstration for our crew. Seeing this as a good challenge and opportunity for adventure, I applied to the Alberta Helitack program. Through this steady seasonal employment, I was able to support my university studies (B.Ed.) and continue in other seasonal pursuits such as mountaineering, travelling and working overseas, studies in woodworking and working as a Teacher on Call. Working with the Alberta Rapattack program allowed me to fight fires in most parts of Alberta and travel to other provinces and states to assist in suppression efforts.

Teaching opportunities were few but in 2003 I was offered a position at Hinton Training Centre as a Wildfire Training Specialist. This was a great opportunity to mesh several years of fire suppression experience with a background in classroom teaching and adult education. Full time employment with Alberta SRD allowed me to work on incident management teams (suppression and prescribed burns) and achieve certifications as a Planning Section Chief and Safety Officer. Fire behaviour is still a fascination of mine and I hope to continue work as a fire behaviour analyst and achieve certification in this role.

In 2011, I joined the FPInnovations Wildfire Operations Research group. Many new challenges and opportunities lie ahead in studying fire behaviour in different fuel environments and contributing to a better understanding of fuel treatments for community protection.

It's great to be able to transform childhood experiences and a fascination with fire into a lifelong pursuit!

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