Wildfire Mitigation in Canada

With September around the corner, we should be seeing a decline in forest fires. However, climate change has enabled an increase in the most extreme fire weather conditions such as a hot and dry climate and extreme high wind speed. With the perfect recipe for wildfires becoming more and more prevalent over time, the official start and end dates for wildfire seasons per province are not as reliable as they used to be.

That’s why it is crucial that we, as an industry, remain ever vigilant and ensure that our powerlines and the activities we perform from transmission, to distribution, to generation, are not the ignition source of any wildfire. Proactive prevention, mitigation, and preparedness will help protect utilities from liability for wildfire damages and protect their assets and the surrounding communities from being damaged or destroyed.

Fires started by the electricity industry are difficult to identify on government wildfire tracking sites as they are often compiled into human or industry related ignition sources. However, some provincial sites do provide just that breakdown. Alberta has identified 2.7% of fires in the Alberta Forest Protection Area were caused by powerlines between 2006 and 2017, as identified in the Grid magazine article, ”Staying Safe in Wildfire Country”, by Amanda Sadleir of Altalink.  In Nova Scotia, between 2015 and 2019, wildfires accounted for 3.3% of the total area burned in hectares and accounted for a total of 4.8% from the total number of fires encountered.[1]

In both provinces, these numbers are in fact low in comparison to California where we have seen communities destroyed, the loss of life and ultimately the American utility PG&E filing for bankruptcy.

In May of this year, CEA released the first Utility Wildfire Mitigation Guide for the Canadian electricity industry. This guide provides mitigation tactics and strategies an electricity utility may use to reduce the risk of ignition.

A large portion of mitigation procedures is situational awareness – being aware of your surroundings, ignition sources, fuel sources and addressing them in real-time. Vegetation or other material coming in contact with transmission and distribution lines create ignition risk as they may ignite and/or cause flashover electrical charges. For example, Rights-of-Ways and other open spaces, provide a means to slow a fire with the proper ground cover(otherwise known as a fire-break). Ensuring these corridors do not contain vegetation debris like tree trimmings, will greatly assist both the utility and nearby communities.

Mitigation activities should not all be on the electricity industry. For example, the federal government could choose to play an active role through vegetation management, such as clearing combustible debris within a defined distance of Rights-of-Way on Crown Lands.

The guide discusses the potential of forming partnerships with government agencies and local governments that would assist in increasing awareness and application of mitigation techniques to assist in protecting utility assets. As the Canadian electricity sector continues to provide safe, sustainable and reliable electricity to communities everywhere, the critical infrastructure that makes this happen must be protected.

More on the Utility Wildfire Mitigation Guide can be found on electricity.ca , here.

[1] Nova Scotia Wildfire Statistics; Government of Nova Scotia; https://novascotia.ca/natr/forestprotection/stats.asp