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Towards a shared understanding of wildfire risk in Canada

May 3 12:00 pm 4:00 pm EDT

Webinar Replay

Depending on who you ask (academics, practitioners, insurers, foresters, ecologists, emergency managers) the definitions and understanding of wildfire risk can vary immensely. In this workshop, organized by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre’s Mitigation and Prevention Committee, various stakeholders will discuss what wildfire risk means to them as a way to enhance our ability to work in a more collaborative and interdisciplinary manner. Individuals from the wildland fire management, research/modelling and insurance communities will share their perspectives on the current research efforts, management needs, and analysis tools of wildfire risk.


Timing (ET)DurationTopicParticipants
12:00 PM10 minsWorkshop introductionKelvin Hirsch (retired), Forest Research Director, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
12:10 PM15 minsWildland Fire Risk: Perspectives from a 40+ year careerBruce Mayer (retired), ADM, Forestry Division, Government of Alberta
12:25 PM15 minsWildland fire risk research in Canada: A synthesisLynn Johnston, Forest Fire Research Specialist, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada
12:40 PM10 minsQ&A 
12:50 PM40 minsScience panel: In this session, wildland fire researchers will discuss their views of the concept of wildfire risk and some of the research work that is underway (or needs to occur) to further this understandingSession Moderator: Ray Ault, Director Prevention and Mitigation, CIFFC

Jen Beverly, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wildland Fire, University of Alberta

Mike Wotton, PhD, Research Scientist, Canadian Forest Service, University of Toronto

Auguste Boissonnade, Risk Management Solutions (RMS)
1:30 PM10 minsQ&A 
1:40 PM40 minsWildfire risk management panel: In this session, end users of wildfire tools and data will discuss their views of the concept of wildfire risk and the tools and data needs they have that will allow them to do their jobs better.Session moderator: Glenn McGillivray, Managing Director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR)

Dennis Chua, Senior Vice President, Aon Reinsurance Solutions

Kim Court, M. E. Sc., Vice President, Reinsurance & Exposure Analysis, Northbridge Financial Corporation

Scott Murphy, National Fire Management Officer, Parks Canada Agency
2:20 PM10 minsQ&A 
2:30 PM15 minsBreak 
2:45 PM40 minsState of the art panel: In this session, participants will discuss the tools that are currently in existence, in development or are needed to assist practitioners, risk managers and others to be able to measure and respond to wildland fire risk.Session moderator: Kelsey Winter, Chair BC FireSmart Committee, BC Wildfire Service

Bruce Blackwell, M.Sc, B.A. Blackwell and Associates Ltd.

Michael Currie, Vice President, Fire Underwriters Survey

Quentin Nelson, First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of British Columbia (FNESS)

Chris Stockdale, PhD Can, Wildland Fire Research and Extension Scientist, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada
3:25 PM10 minsQ&A 
3:35 PM15 minsSession recap (observations, reflections, and key messages), next steps, and closingKelvin Hirsch (retired), Forest Research Director, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service
3:50 PM Session end 


Bruce Mayer

Assistant Deputy Minister, Forestry (Retired)

Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development

Most people that have had the unique opportunity of working on a wildfire crew will tell you that making the transition to a desk job is not an easy one and Bruce Mayer is no different. After studying business at the University of Calgary for a few years, he realized he’d never be as happy working everyday under fluorescent lights in an office as he had been during his summers working with the Alberta Forest Service.

This discovery pushed Bruce to change his focus and enroll in the NAIT Forest Technology program. What started as seasonal work in various positions within forestry, evolved to becoming a forest officer and eventually the Forest Area Manager in Athabasca and Wildfire Manager in Whitecourt. Bruce’s career has taken him all over Alberta, with his latest stop being Edmonton where he’s held various roles in Wildfire, Business Services and Aboriginal Consultation. For the past eleven years Bruce has been the Assistant Deputy Minister of Forestry, a role that allows him to lead a strong team who manage the forests of Alberta, ensure the forests remain environmentally sustainable, that people and communities remain safe from wildfire, and that social, economic and environmental values are realized from those forests.​

Bruce retired from the Alberta government after 40 years on January 31, 2022. He has 3 children and 6 grandchildren and spends spare time working on Alberta forest history and lake lot projects.


Towards a Shared Understanding of Wildfire Risk in Canada

Bruce Mayer – Perspectives from a 40+ year career …

Identifying one definition of wildland fire risk is difficult to do. How ‘risk’ is defined changes with the situation you are in, your training, mitigation, and the position or role you hold. Within his career, Bruce has seen risk as a wildland firefighter, a forest officer supervisor, manager, director of wildfire, and lastly as assistant deputy minister of forestry. Risk can take the form of injury or loss of life, property loss, financial, or political. Bruce will provide an overview of how risk has been interpreted and addressed over his career in Alberta.

Dr Auguste Boissonnade

Vice President, Model Development, Risk Management Solutions

Dr.  Auguste Boissonnade has more than 30 years of experience in the development of natural hazard and risk models around the world. He is currently leading the development of wildfire modelling capabilities at RMS.  He has been working at RMS since 1995 where he was the original architect of the RMS hurricane catastrophe loss model for the US and subsequently led the technical developments of hurricane, tornado, hail and wildfire catastrophe models, weather derivatives risk products, and the ‘Post Event Loss Amplification’ modules that explicitly consider the potential indirect economic impacts following catastrophic events on insurance claims. Auguste was detached to Asia Risk Centre (ARC) between 2012 and 2016, as Chief Technical Officer leading the development of (re)insurance crop risk models and weather-based indices agricultural contracts with teams in the United Kingdom, California, Singapore, and India.  

Before joining RMS, Auguste was project engineer at Jack R. Benjamin and Associates (JBA), Assistant Consulting Professor at Stanford University, and project leader at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), USA, conducting research and developing seismic and other natural hazards probabilistic models and risk guidelines for the US Department of Energy.  Auguste has authored more than 50 publications, including one book and is a member of several scientific organizations and technical standards committees, including ASCE, AGU, AMS.  Auguste received his Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Ray Ault

Director of prevention and mitigation, Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC)

Ray Ault is the Director of FireSmart Canada working with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) in Winnipeg. Previous roles include 16 years leading applied wildfire research with FPInnovations and many years in wildfire operations working in both BC and Alberta. Ray lives outside of Victoria, BC. Ray is the moderator for science panel.

Kelsey Winter

FireSmart Program Lead for the BC Wildfire Service and the Chair of the BC FireSmart Committee (BCFSC)

Kelsey Winter is the FireSmart Program Lead for the BC Wildfire Service and the Chair of the BC FireSmart Committee (BCFSC). She has worked in wildfire for twelve years and has experience on the fireline, in operational and strategic communications and is now leading the development and implementation of FireSmart across British Columbia.

Kelsey has a Masters in Fire Ecology and a Masters in Natural Resources and is starting her PhD in Public Administration at UVIC this year focusing on barriers to wildfire preparedness for Indigenous communities. Kelsey has been involved with FireSmart since 2014 when she became a FireSmart Provincial Liaison for BC and her three daughters are Ember’s biggest fans.

Lynn Johnston

Forest Fire Research Specialist with the Canadian Forest Service (CFS)

Lynn Johnston is a Forest Fire Research Specialist with the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. Lynn has a MSc. from the University of Alberta with a focus on fire risk in the wildland-urban interface. She has enjoyed playing with fire at work since she started with the CFS in 2007. Her research interests include climate change, fire behaviour, fire impacts, and fire risk. Her work on the wildland-urban interface has been used by fire managers and many other stakeholders, and she is often engaged in a variety of activities aimed at reducing wildland fire risk.

Project Abstract

Wildland fire risk research in Canada: A synthesis
Lynn Johnston

This talk will provide an overview of wildland fire risk in the context of fire science and management in Canada. The role of the insurance community and the drivers/modifiers of risk will be discussed. Using a recent review paper as a guide (Johnston et al. 2020), several questions will be examined, including:
why does wildland fire risk matter?
what is “risk”?
what do we know about wildland fire risk?
what can be done about risk?
Overall, this talk aims to set the stage for further discussion on managing risk under improved mutual understanding of risk as a uncertain, dynamic, and application-dependant concept.

Johnston LM; Wang X; Erni S; Taylor SW; McFayden CB; Oliver JA; Stockdale C; Christianson A; Boulanger Y; Gauthier S; Arseneault D; Wotton BM; Parisien M-A; Flannigan MD (2020) Wildland fire risk research in Canada. Environmental Reviews 28(2): 164-186. https://doi.org/10.1139/er-2019-0046.

Bruce Blackwell, M.Sc., RPF, RPBio

Bruce has more than 33 years’ experience as a Professional Forester and Biologist primarily focused in fire and forest ecology, forest management, fire management, wildland/urban interface planning, forest policy and practice audits and reviews. Bruce is considered a provincial expert in fire and fuels management and has managed numerous innovative projects related to fire risk identification and mitigation for both the public and private sector. He has provided expert opinion testimony and numerous interviews on the topic of wildfire in BC. Bruce assisted the Firestorm 2003 Review Team in the development of recommendations on forest management and policy to mitigate the risk of catastrophic fires in the wildland/urban interface of BC. In Alberta, Bruce has been involved with development of the provincial fire management planning standard and the development of the first landscape scale fire management plans and risk assessments. More recently Bruce completed a wildfire risk analysis of the BC Hydro electrical system and he is supporting the BC Wildfire Service in the development of a Provincial Wildfire Risk Assessment. He has been an instructor in fire science and fire management at both the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Project Abstract

Over the last 20 years wildfires have been caused by electrical utilities in a number of communities and these same utilities have sustained significant damage from wildfires. B.A. Blackwell and Associates was responsible for the first wildfire risk assessment of the BC Hydro transmission system in 2004, and more recently in 2019-20, completed a wildfire risk assessment of the entire system including transmission, distribution, and generation. The focus of the project was to assess both the risk of causation of wildfires and potential impacts of wildfires to Hydro infrastructure. The presentation will highlight the approach to the wildfire risk assessment and the outcomes.

Kelvin Hirsch (B.Sc. Forestry, M.Sc, Forestry)

Kelvin Hirsch (B.Sc. Forestry, M.Sc, Forestry) retired in May 2017 after a 35-year career with Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service (CFS), primarily at the Northern Forestry Centre (NoFC) in Edmonton, Alberta. Kelvin began working with the CFS doing knowledge exchange and conducting forest fire research in the areas of fire behaviour, fuels management, fire suppression effectiveness, and the integration of fire and forest management. He was a founding member of the Partners in Protection Association and contributed to the development of the first FireSmart manual. In 2001, he became a Research Management Advisor focusing on science-policy integration. He was a primary advisor to senior federal officials and Ministers on wildland fire and was actively involved in the development of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) 2005 Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy. In 2008 Kelvin became the Director of NoFC’s Climate Change and Forest Research Program, served as the national Project Coordinator for the CFS’ Climate Change Adaptation Project, and led the CCFM’s Climate Change Task Force Technical Advisory Committee. Throughout his career he was fortunate to work with and learn from individuals from a wide range of disciplines which significantly influenced his interest in interdisciplinary, systems-based approaches for developing, managing, and applying research and policy. Currently he enjoys spending time with his family, reading (for fun), sports of various types, exploring nature, and coaching/advising individuals and groups when requested.

Michael Currie, VP

Michael Currie studied Civil Engineering Technology at British Columbia Institute of Technology, later specializing in fire protection and is now a Professional Member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, registered to practice engineering as a Licensee with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta. 

Michael started his career evaluating fire risk through plan review and code compliance assessment for the BC Ministry of Finance.   Over the past 25 years, Michael has worked with the Insurers Advisory Organization and Fire Underwriters Survey in developing digital fire risk index systems that connect the level of emergency preparedness of every Canadian community to the Canadian Property and Casualty insurance community.

Session Abstract

Fire risk indexes have been used by the Canadian and American Property and Casualty insurance industries for more than 100 years.  These indexes continue to have a significant influence on the investment and maintenance of public fire suppression capacity and fire prevention activities, at the local government level (ex. municipal) in both countries.  An index of Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) risk has been created to facilitate the connection of Canadian Property and Casualty insurers with a standardized numeric score of risk at a coarse scale for all locations in Canada. Similar to other fire risk indexes currently in use across Canada, the WUI risk index provides a mechanism for local government representatives to view and update the coarse scale information with higher accuracy data in standardized formats to improve the accuracy of data visible to insurers and to track and report on progress on key risk contribution factors such as fuel treatments, prevention practices and implementation, and preparation for effective suppression.

Dr. Jen Beverly

Assistant Professor in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta

Dr. Jen Beverly is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta. She has 6 years’ experience as a wildland firefighter and 12 years professional research experience in wildland fire science, both in academia and as a former Research Scientist with the Canadian Forest Service. ​Dr. Beverly’s overall goal is to contribute new insights about wildfires that improve interactions between fires, people and ecosystems. To this end, she applies a range of methods, including statistical modeling, simulation modeling and spatial analysis, to inform complex fire management decisions.  Her studies have addressed post-fire ecological effects, fire behavior prediction, fuels measurement, fire-climate interactions, wildfire evacuations, escaped fires, values-at-risk mapping, and strategic fire risk assessment at both community and landscape scales. Dr. Beverly’s method for community wildfire exposure assessment has been adopted by Alberta Wildfire and is promoted nationally by FireSmart Canada.

Scott Murphy

National Fire Management Officer with Parks Canada

Scott Murphy is a National Fire Management Officer with Parks Canada.  He helps coordinate the strategic development and operational delivery of Parks Canada’s wildland fire management program, while also supporting fire management specialists at National Parks and National Historic Sites all across Canada.  Scott began his career in wildland fire in 2001 on a fire crew with the Province of Alberta, while studying forestry at the University of New Brunswick (BScF).  After seven years with the Province of Alberta as a firefighter, Wildfire Ranger and Wildfire Science Forester, Scott joined the ranks of Parks Canada as a National Fire Management Officer, based out of Calgary, AB.  After five years in that position, Scott moved down the road to Waterton Lakes National Park, where he served as Fire Management Officer for seven years on the Canadian side of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and led the fire program during a very active stretch of prescribed fire and fire response activities.  Scott returned to the National Fire Management Division in 2019, where one of his tasks is coordinating the program’s wildfire risk reduction portfolio. He is based out of Halifax, NS.

Kim Court, M.E.Sc, CCRMP

Vice President of Reinsurance and Exposure Management at Northbridge Financial Corporation

Kim Court is the Vice President of Reinsurance and Exposure Management at Northbridge Financial Corporation and is also a Certified Catastrophe Risk Management Professional (CCRMP). With over 17 years of experience in risk evaluation, catastrophe modeling, insurance, and Structural and Wind Engineering, Kim translates complex risk problems into practical solutions for customer safety, portfolio management, and operational success. Kim’s responsibilities at Northbridge include property portfolio management for natural hazards and exposure evaluation during catastrophic events including wildfire, earthquake, flood, and severe convective storm.

Mike Wotton

Senior Research Scientist with the Canadian Forest Service (Natural Resources Canada)

Mike Wotton is a Senior Research Scientist with the Canadian Forest Service (Natural Resources Canada) currently stationed at the University of Toronto where he is an associate professor. Dr. Wotton works closely with fire management agencies from across Canada in the application of the results of research and modelling of the wildland fire environment into daily fire management operations.


Wotton is a physical modeler, who works mainly on trying improve the understanding of the linkages between weather, fuel moisture, fire ignition and fire spread and then helping to transform that understanding into useful information for operational wildland fire managers.  This latter task involves trying to reconcile these physical models with the uncertainty that influences different spatial and temporal scales and is an important step in providing the right information into the wildfire risk management process.  This short panel talk will touch on a few of these topics from the point of view of someone who works mainly likes to work on the likelihood part of risk.


May 3
12:00 pm – 4:00 pm EDTw
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