Welcome to Aboriginal Access to Engineering, Queen's University

Forest Fires

Types of Engineering involved: Forestry

There are thousands of forest fires in Canada every summer. Because many First Nations communities are in or near forested areas, controlling wildfires directly impacts many Aboriginal people each year.

Wildfires are a part of the Earth's natural process of renewal. They make dead plants into soil and certain tree seeds need fire to grow. Lightning usually causes natural wildfires. When too many dead plants pile up the fires get stronger. Unfortunately, many fires are also caused by humans: campfires left unattended or cigarette butts flicked into the bush can easily and quickly set fire to dried plants and even tree roots. It is these accidental fires which often cause the most damage.

On their own, wildfires do little damage and burn out quickly. In fact, only 200-300 fires each year will consume more than 200 hectares of forest and land.

When forest fire season starts, hundreds of trained volunteers and professional fire fighters battle the blazes in order to protect natural resources, towns, people and wildlife. On the ground, they haul heavy pumps and hoses. Using axes, chainsaws and other hand tools they create firebreaks to slow or stop the spread of flames. In the air, helicopters and airplanes dump water and chemicals on the fires to stop their spread. Forestry engineers work with these people and give advice on forest fire prevention and control.

Some of the information used for this article was found at National Aboriginal Forestry Association and Canadian Forest Service.

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