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How Wood Buffalo National Park is fighting intense wildfires

A photo of a wildfire posted to Facebook by Wood Buffalo National Park on June 2, 2023
A photo of a wildfire posted to Facebook by Wood Buffalo National Park on June 2, 2023.


Wood Buffalo National Park has seen 14 wildfires start in the past week. Conditions are extraordinarily difficult for firefighters.

The Paskwa wildfire, at nearly 90,000 hectares, has encroached into the southwestern end of the park. The Davidson complex of four fires has reached 16,500 hectares burned. And Fire 2, in the park’s naming system, is some 5,000 hectares in size and has forced the closure of the Pine Lake recreational area.

Parks Canada relies heavily on satellite detection to monitor fire activity in a park that spans a stretch of NWT-Alberta border and is the largest in Canada, not much smaller than Nova Scotia in size.

David Tavernini, the acting fire manager for the park, says conditions have been consistently dry since April. Last year’s autumn was also dry, and there was low snowpack over the winter.



He says those conditions are contributing to “pretty extreme fire behaviour” in the park, behaviour that complicates efforts to directly address the fire with crews on the ground.

“As soon as we get later into the day, that fire behaviour picks up and it’s no longer safe for crews to be on the line,” said Tavernini.

“Even using direct suppression from aircraft – like water bombers, when we’re dropping water directly on the fire line in the mid-afternoon – we’re seeing limited success with that.”

Instead, Tavernini said, Parks Canada is using indirect management methods to fight the fires.



That means bulldozers removing vegetation to clear a fuel break near structures in the park, or back-burns that remove potential fuel for the fire when the weather allows.

Sprinklers are being used to protect structures.

There are currently 49 firefighters and five helicopters responding to the park’s fires. The park also has access to a fleet of water bombers shared between Alberta and the NWT, plus three pieces of heavy equipment for the aforementioned strategic containment.

Wood Buffalo is located in what Tavernini calls a “high severity fire regime,” meaning fire is a natural part of the landscape.

“There are a lot of very remote areas in the park that fire can play in its ecological process,” he said.

Drier summers aren’t unheard of, he said, and they create more intense fire seasons.

However, Tavernini cited research that suggests climate change is influencing fire seasons in the NWT and across Canada.

“That general trend we’re seeing is longer fire seasons and fires that are more intense, more rapidly spreading, and can pose more challenges with respect to fire management,” said Tavernini.

“What we’re trying to do is look at how do we strategically manage these fires so that we can protect that infrastructure and protect human life safety, and protect those values at risk, while still maintaining fire on the landscape.”