Fort McMurray Wildfire in Alberta Canada Deemed Extreme | NASA

Link to NASA satellite high resolution images of fires burning around the globe.

Dates signify time of image.

http://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/central-america-is-on-fire

May 4, 2016

Fort McMurray Wildfire in Alberta Canada Deemed Extreme

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May 7,2016
The prevailing wind is blowing from the southwest, pushing the fire northeast away from Fort McMurray. The huge fire could reach the Saskatchewan border, 90 kilometres away, by the end of the day and will likely continue long after any danger to communities has passed, perhaps for many months, Morrisons said.

■■■■■■■■■NATURAL RESOURCES CANADA SAYS

Why the boreal forest burns:
The trees surrounding Fort McMurray are hard-wired for fire.

The large swaths of green that ring Fort McMurray are made up of trees that have adapted over time to depend on fire for growth.

Natural Resources Canada says that in the boreal forest fire “is as crucial to forest renewal as the sun and rain.” During a Tuesday press conference in Fort McMurray, Bernie Schmitte from Alberta Forestry elaborated on why the region is going up in smoke.

“Spruce trees, pine trees, they like to burn. They have to burn to regenerate themselves. Those species have adapted to fire. Their cones have adapted to open up after the fire. The trees have adapted so that once they’re old enough, and decadent and need to be replaced, they are available to fire so they burn.”

He called the black spruce, white spruce and aspen trees “volatile fuels” in the fire-dependent ecosystem.

Black spruce, which grows across the continent from Newfoundland to Alaska, can grow as high as 30 metres in areas with well-drained mineral soils. According to the U.S. Fire Service, even the arrangement of the black spruce’s branches and cones help spur “easy ignition and torching,” all the while protecting the tree’s seeds from fire. The tree’s cones also release seeds soon after a blaze. After a fire burns through the moss or lichen layers atop the soil, it’s easier for the seeds to thrive in burn sites.

MORE ON TREES.
Aspens, another tree type singled out by Schmitte, have been hammered by recent droughts in the region. Last summer, Erica Samis, manager of forest health and adaptation with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, told the Calgary Herald she had been noticing the normally full, green deciduous trees were shriveling up and turning brown from the lack of rain. Drought can make dried-out trees more vulnerable to fire as well.

Jack pine is also found in large parts of Alberta. The species thrives after forest fires, the heat opening up pine cones and releasing seeds. The burns also get rid of competing plants and shrub. The species of pine is among the most common trees in the boreal region, which stretches across half of Canada’s land mass.

In 2015, fires burned through 491,000 hectares of land in Alberta, a significant increase over the 179,000 average for the last decade.

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