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Natural Hazards

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 571–596 | Cite as

Wildfire evacuations in Canada 1980–2007

  • Jennifer L. Beverly
  • Peter Bothwell
Original Paper

Abstract

Evacuations represent an integral aspect of protecting public safety in locations where intense, fast-spreading forest fires co-occur with human populations. Most Canadian fire management agencies have as their primary objective the protection of people and property, and all fire management agencies in Canada recommend evacuations when public safety is in question. This study provides the first national assessment of wildfire-related evacuations in Canada and documents the loss of homes that coincided with evacuation events. The most striking finding is that despite the intensity and abundance of wildfire in Canada, wildfires have displaced a relatively small number of people. Between 1980 and 2007, the median number of evacuees and home losses per year in Canada were 3,590 and 2, respectively. Evacuees’ homes survived in 99.3% of cases. Patterns of evacuations and home losses reflected the distributions of forests, wildfire, and people across the Canadian landscape. Most evacuations occurred in boreal areas, which have relatively low population densities but among the highest percent annual area burned in Canada. Evacuations were less common in southern parts of the country, where most Canadians reside, but individual wildfires in these areas had significant impacts. Interactions between wildfire and people in Canada exhibited a unique regional pattern, and within the most densely populated regions of the country they can be considered ‘low-probability, high-consequence’ events. This Canadian context is fundamentally different from places such as California, where concentrations of fires and people overlap across large areas and therefore calls for a fundamentally different fire management response.

Keywords

Forest fire Wildland–urban interface Community protection Fire management Wildfire risk Property losses Natural hazard Risk perception FireSmart FireWise 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was partially supported by the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta (Project OF-04-P036). We thank A. Ehnes for her contributions to collection, input, and verification of the data; C. Bliss-Taylor for assisting with land-cover analysis; and R. Carr (Canadian Forest Service) for compiling weather station observations used in our study. We thank M. Wotton and M. Flannigan, both of the Canadian Forest Service, for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript and P. Robinson for her editorial review.

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Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Northern Forestry CentreCanadian Forest ServiceEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Fire Management Systems LaboratoryUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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