The southeast area of Prince Albert National Park was recently blanketed by smoke and flames, but nearby residents could rest assured they were in no immediate danger.
After nearly four years of planning, 900 hectares of park land was safely set on fire, April 3, in what’s known as a prescribed fire.
Dustin Guedo, the parks fire and vegetation ecologist, said the prescribed fire is a great way to undo human damage. He said modern agricultural and even fire safety techniques have disrupted the natural ecosystem of the forest.
“(The forest) will go from open grassland area, to being encroached by forest and then having a fire come in and open it up again. We’ve lost that fire disturbance and the forest has moved in,” Guedo said.
The area is what Guedo calls an “interface” between forests and grasslands, where prairie and boreal species of animals and plants meet. If the forest wasn’t pushed back, flowers would be shaded out and the area’s diversity would diminish.
The goal of the fire was to increase grasslands by 50 to 100 per cent and reduce tree and shrub density by 20 per cent.
Creating new habitats for animals was also a goal of the burn. Opening the area back up to grasslands, according to Guedo, will lead to more moose and elk in the area. He said no wildlife would be harmed during the burn.
“We’re going to be burning in a slow enough progression during the day so it’ll give larger animals time to get out of the way and smaller animals to burrow into safety,” Guedo said.
Animals are expected to return to the area almost immediately after the fire. Several weeks later, park workers expect the area to be much greener.
“We’re a national park and it’s our job to conserve these areas, and we’re doing the best we can to open this area and bring the species back to a larger extent,” Guedo said.
Several weeks ago, park fire crews cleared a trail around the fire area to prevent the prescribed fire from spreading. Helicopters then dropped thousands of tiny balls, roughly the size of a ping pong ball, on the dry forest.
Park fire management technician Glenn Rupert said the balls were filled with chemicals and ignited when they hit the ground. Each ball would sizzle for 30 seconds before shooting off sparks and fire, igniting the area.
Though the fire was massive, Rupert said safety was their number one concern.
“We’re close to the park boundary so we have to be concerned about the safety of the public and our crews but also park infrastructure and neighbouring lands,” he said.
Sprinklers were set up around the park to soak buildings at park entrances and save them from the heat.
Rupert said this fire is one of three scheduled for 2016. A smaller fire was done at the end of April, and another is scheduled later in the summer on the west side of the park to restore bison habitats.
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