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Climate & Environmental Change

Advanced  Wildfire Risk Data for Informed Decision-Making

Philip Green

Chief Science Officer

May 30, 2024

Understanding Wildfire Risk

Benefits of Wildfire Risk Assessment

Wildfire risk assessments are carried out by insurance underwriters, government agencies and local communities as well as industry, and private landowners.  Wildfire risk modeling informs decision makers by providing objective and accurate data when assessing threats to private and public assets, infrastructure or public safety.  Wildfire risk assessment results will assist managers to plan cost-effective fuel modification programs designed to mitigate against the future impacts of wildfire.  Dependable wildfire risk data is crucial to the insurance and reinsurance industry when underwriting policies that cover damage to assets or the impacts on the health, safety and wellness of policy holders if displaced or otherwise affected by a wildfire emergency.

Our Wildfire Risk Assessment Data

If you are utilizing open-source forest and wildfire fuel data in your wildfire risk models or wildfire risk assessments tools, then you cannot be certain of the data currency or accuracy of the results.  Forest inventories are designed to facilitate traditional forestry activities such as forest harvesting or road construction but are often appropriated for “off-label” use in wildfire risk modeling.  The intervals between re-inventory processes commonly exceed 20 years and have exclusively relied on the skill of one or more photo-interpreters, all of which contribute to low accuracy and inconsistent results. Generalized forest inventory data often lacks the detail required for classifying wildfire fuels or for evaluating the associated wildfire risk to people, property, and critical infrastructure. To avoid these pitfalls, FRMG does not utilize the open-source forest inventory data provided by provincial forest management organizations in our assessment of wildfire risk.  Our wildfire risk assessment data is developed using up-to-date satellite imagery and our algorithms automated to map current fuel types, including those that result from recent wildfire events or any other significant disturbance activities.  By utilizing our proprietary algorithms, we provide higher cadence updates, better accuracy, and consistent Canada-wide results regardless of jurisdictional boundaries.  Our data and associated wildfire risk assessments have proven to be valuable to the insurance and re-insurance industry, real estate income trusts (REITs) and other large land holdings as well as to local communities and public utilities.

Wildfire Fuel Type

SKyForest classifies both forested and non-forested landscapes across Canada by the wildfire fuel type that exists at any location.  We have achieved this for every 20X20 metre area (pixel) south of the 60th parallel and from coast to coast. Wildfire fuel types are assigned from data inputs that include our proprietary Percent Conifer Basal Area assessment which utilizes high-resolution satellite imagery to maps the percentage of high-risk fuel types (conifer species) that occupy each location.  The determination of wildfire fuel type is further informed using SkyForest forest structural data including forest canopy height and crown coverage and species information. The type of land cover in non-forested areas is also assessed and mapped for wildfire fuel type.  Recent events such as land clearing, wildfire, forest harvesting activities and other sources of disturbance will change the fuel type and it’s risk classification for wildfire.  For these reasons our information is updated with recent disturbances annually, or on a faster cadence based on your individual needs.

Finally, the SkyForest Fuel Type information is based on the classification rules set out in the National Research Council’s “National Guide for Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fires”.

Wildfire Fuel Hazard

Wildfire Fuel Hazard represents the degree of wildfire danger associated with the identified forest and non-forest fuel types.  The Wildfire Fuel Hazard classification relates to the potential wildfire burn intensity as well as the likelihood for an ignition source to spread across the landscape.  Unlike Wildfire Exposure, the assessment of a wildfire hazard rating for each 20X20 metre pixel does not include external physical factors such as slope or aspect. The Wildfire Fuel Hazard ratings are determined using inputs that include our proprietary Percent Conifer Basal Area which maps the percentage of high-risk fuel types (conifer species) for each 20X20 metre forested location across Canada.  The determination of Wildfire Fuel Hazard is further informed using our remotely sensed structural data such as canopy height and crown coverage, and species information. Wildfire Fuel Hazard is an important input into two other SkyForest wildfire classifications: the Distance to Hazardous Fuels and Wildfire Exposure. The Wildfire Fuel Hazard assessment is informed by the scientific literature, government wildfire guidelines, and our internal and consulting wildfire expertise.

Distance to Hazardous Fuels

As described in Wildfire Fuel Hazard, each 20X20m location (pixel) across the Canadian landscape that is below the 60th parallel has been assigned one of four Wildfire Fuel Hazard levels (nil, low, medium, and high).  Using this data as a primary input, the Distance to Hazardous Fuels further classifies each pixel by its proximity (measured in metres) to every medium and high Wildfire Fuel Hazard pixel located within 2000 metres.  Maps are then produced showing how all locations within your broader area of interest are rated for Wildfire Fuel Hazard based on the extent of the surrounding hazardous wildfire fuels.

Wildfire Exposure

Wildfire Exposure measures the extent to which a location may come into contact with the flames, radiant heat or embers generated from wildfires in the surrounding landscape.  Wildfire Exposure accounts for the influence of geography on the ignition of hazardous fuels. Steeper slopes will facilitate faster wildfire movement uphill by pre-heating the upslope fuels ahead of the flame front.  Given similar conditions, the downslope movement of the wildfire front will be slower since the pre-heating of forest fuels is reduced.  The direction that a sloped terrain faces (aspect) will also influence fire behavior due to the drying effect that continuous direct sunlight has on forest fuels.  Wildfire Exposure will be particularly important for clients whose interests are located within or adjacent to mountainous or rolling terrain. Our Wildfire Exposure rating will assign greater importance to hazardous fuels, slope and aspect conditions in close proximity to a selected area of interest compared to similar conditions farther away.

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