The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) sought understanding about the implications of climate change on fire risk, particularly on the urban fringe where fire has been relatively frequent as a result of humans. HRM and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities funded this two-year study, which was a welcome return to the fire threat modelling work I had undertaken in Northern Alberta for my 1996 Geography Honours at the University of Waterloo.

We modelled fires for Spryfield and Beaver Bank HRM suburbs in Burn-P3 software, the Canadian industry standard for fire modelling, using urban land cover data we refined with high-resolution LIDAR and optical imagery. This modelling enabled a robust approach to identify the so-called ‘wildland urban interface’ at a municipal scale, based on the distribution of the resulting fire risk (Whitman et al, 2013). We then developed a conceptual model of the various drivers of fire risk and their directionality under climate change, and strengthened a qualitative analysis of these with expert opinion gleaned using Analytical Hierarachy Process (Whitman et al. 2014). We learned that there would be a risk increase in the short term (<50 years) as maladapted trees became unhealthy and vulnerable to windthrow and insect attack, thereby increasing the fuel for fire. In the longer term, increased rain would decrease risk. A conceptual model for balancing ecosystem services provided by trees with their risks in proximity to buildings was written up for a planning audience (Whitman et al. 2014).

Works cited

Whitman, E., Rapaport, E. and Sherren, K. 2013. Modelling fire susceptibility to delineate wildland-urban interface for municipal-scale fire risk management. Environmental Management, Vol. 52, No. 6, pp. 1427-39.

Whitman, E., Sherren, K. and Rapaport, E. 2014. A conceptual model for balancing management trade-offs between urban forest benefits and wildfire risk. Plan Canada. Vol 54, No 4, pp. 16-21.

Whitman, E., Sherren, K. and Rapaport, E. 2014. Increasing daily wildfire risk in the Acadian Forest region of Nova Scotia, Canada, under future climate change. Regional Environmental Change, Vol. 15, No. 7, pp. 1447-1459.

Research trainee

This funded the 2013 MES of Ellen Whitman, Current and future wildfire risk in the peri-urban Acadian Forest Region, co-supervised by Dr. Eric Rapaport, School of Planning at Dalhousie. After graduation, Ellen won a very competitive role as research assistant in Meg Krawchuk’s Landscape and Conservation Science research group at SFU but based at the Northern Forestry Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, then worked as Spatial Data Analyst at the latter. She started a PhD in Mike Flannigan’s lab at the University of Alberta in fall 2015.