Where there's smoke...
Fort Providence site of fire testing

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

FORT PROVIDENCE (Jul 03/98) - Residents of Fort Providence may notice some plumes of black smoke in the sky this week.

But they needn't be worried, there's a lot of experts on hand.

The smoke comes as a result of an experiment to help international scientists better understand the behavior and effects of crown fires. Fifty-eight forest fire experts from around the world have descended upon Fort Providence to simulate several high-intensity crown fires, which burn trees from the base to the treetop and account for a substantial percentage of forest destruction in Canada.

Fort Providence was selected as the site because its fire-prone jack spruce trees are ideal for the experiment, according to Paul Johnson, the department of resources manager of forests for the South Slave region.

Johnson said eight 1.2-hectare plots would be used. After extensive site preparation, the first section was to be burned Wednesday. The remaining wood from the plots will be bundled and removed and site reclamation will be undertaken to ensure the same species return, said Johnson.

"It's a fire-generated ecosystem. It's how the trees regenerate themselves," Johnson explained of the importance of forest management.

Known as the International Crown Fire Modelling Experiment, the project will involve scientists from France, Russia, Australia, the United States as well as NASA. They will collect data on the rate of fire spread, flame characteristics, soil and heat flux and incident radiation. Smoke samples are also being collected.

The arrival of the 58 scientific tourists is also beneficial to the economy of Fort Providence. Many of those involved with the project are staying at the perennially busy Snowshoe Inn.

"We're glad to see them. They're a good bunch," said Stefanie Philipp, owner of the inn. The experiment, which actually began last summer in Fort Providence, is expected to conclude on July 13.