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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Forests > Agents of Change > Forest Fires

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Forest Fires

Burned Spruce Forest at Fickle LakeFire has played a significant role in shaping the forest landscape of Alberta. Fire is a natural process in terrestrial ecosystems, and has occurred since the glaciers retreated. The boreal forest, in particular, is a "disturbance" forest where fire is the predominant agent of change. Forest fires have burned more than 75 percent of Alberta's forest area in the last 50 years. It should be noted, however, that not every fire completely destroys the forest it burns through, nor does every fire significantly damage the trees. Some fires burn mostly the ground cover while others burn only the tops of trees. Still others are low intensity fires that cause little damage. This is very typical of forest fires in Alberta—they are quite variable in the degree of disturbance.

On average, about 1,000 forest fires occur each year in the province. From 1970–1996, this resulted in an average disturbance of more than 1,400 square kilometres per year. In 1981 alone, 13,600 square kilometres of forest burned as a result of 1,522 forest fires.

Department of the Environment. State of the Environment Report, Terrestrial Ecosystems. Edmonton: n.p., 2001. With permission from Alberta Environment.

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