The proposed study area is Mackenzie County in Northern Alberta, Canada, with a focus on communities located close to the Peace River. As displayed in Figure 1, between 2013 and 2017 there were 1301 reported forest fires in Mackenzie County. The average size of each fire being approximately 179.1 hectares. 47% of these fires were caused by human activity and 52% were caused by lightning (Natural Resources Canada, 2018). In the past, the communities in Mackenzie county have been threatened by these fires and were forced to evacuate as a result. By conducting a study to analyze vulnerability in this specific area, it will be possible to prevent wildland/urban interface fires and employ the mitigation strategies required to prevent fire in the future. Strategies may involve creating fire buffers, removing hanging or climbing debris within a forest canopy, or using fire-resistant materials for the purpose of construction among many others (FireSmart, 2013).
Figure 1: Study Area of Mackenzie County, Alberta
Source: University of Calgary. (2017). Library: GIS Resources: Thematic data. Retrieved January 24, 2019, from https://library.ucalgary.ca/c.php?g=255401&p=1703412
Mackenzie County is Alberta’s largest county, covering an area of 80,458.19 square kilometres. In 2016, the population was 11,171, giving the county a population density of 0.1 people per square kilometre (Statistics Canada, 2019). The main industries in Mackenzie County are forestry, agriculture, and tourism. This area also contains 36% of the Peace Region’s natural gas reserves and 80% of its light-medium crude oil reserves, making the oil and gas industry also quite significant (Administrator, 2017).
Mackenzie County contains two significant ecozones. The Taiga Plains ecozone encompasses the northwestern part of the county. The topography is relatively flat and the dominant landforms are peatlands and wetlands. Vegetation varies greatly across this zone, as most of the area is covered by low trees, shrubs, and grasses. There are some forests that are located along watercourses that are composed of various conifers and few deciduous trees (Ecosystem Classification Group,2009). The Boreal Plains ecozone encompasses the southeastern part of the county. It consists of relatively flat plains covered by shrub-grasslands and lowland forests, with dominant tree species of white and black spruce, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, and lodgepole pine (Demarchi, 2010). The Peace River flows through the Boreal Plains ecozone.
Currently there are a number of protocols in place within Mackenzie County that act to mitigate the likelihood of fire. In fact, every community in this county is bound by bylaws 811-11, all of which define public responsibility in terms of preventing a fire (Mackenzie County, 2018). In Section 13 this is particularly important. Community members and those individuals in the Fire Service are required by law to take action in order prevent fires. Privately owned land or public land must be maintained and groomed to limit the likelihood of fire (Mackenzie County, 2018). Developers must adhere to code by using fire resistant materials for any construction of buildings or industrial sites (ISL Engineering and Land Services, 2009). In addition, by mandate Fire Service personnel are required to construct fire guards surrounding highly populated sites that may act as a protective buffer in the event that an uncontrollable wildfire occurs (ISL Engineering and Land Services, 2009). The Government of Canada also releases an annual report that provides a series of recommendations for communities in fire prone areas, those of which require extensive woodlot management tools in order to mitigate fire (Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, 2015).
Unfortunately there is little to no record of how effective the these forest fire prevention protocols are or whether the communities in Mackenzie County strictly adhere to these rules or recommendations.