What are they?

Icon of a flame

Wildfires are fires, started by natural causes or human activities, that burn large areas of vegetated land. 

How do wildfires impact water quality in the Bow River Basin?

Lingering firefighting chemicals left in the soil after a fire can degrade water quality.

Following a wildfire, large amounts of sediment and organic matter (e.g., ash and dead plant matter) may be introduced into waterways. Soil no longer held in place by vegetation and tree roots also washes into streams.

When a fire removes all vegetation and trees from a large area, rainfall and snowmelt flows off the land at a much quicker rate.  This causes stream bank erosion and increases sediment loading, and can sometimes result in flooding. 

The heat from a fire can damage the soil structure, making it easier for erosion to occur. 

When a fire burns vegetation, and heavy metals and nutrients are exposed and washed into streams, the pH and other chemical properties of the water can be changed.

What can we do about it?

Be very careful with campfires and backyard fires to ensure they do not spread.

During a fire-ban, respect all regulations.

Make sure to report any signs of wildfires you see.

Obey area-specific signs posted by local fire and rescue operations.

Where can I find more information?

How wildfires impact a watershed

Blog post “When Wildfires threaten our drinking water”


Meixner, T. (2004, October). Wildfire impacts on water quality. Retrieved from: http://swhydro.arizona.edu/archive/V3_N5/feature7.pdf 

Emelko, M., Ho Sham, C. (2014). Wildfire impacts on water supplies and the potential for mitigation: workshop report. Retrieved from: http://www.cwn-rce.ca/assets/resources/pdf/Wildfire-Impacts-on-Water-Supplies-and-the-Potential-for-Mitigation_Workshop-Report.pdf 

Cecco, L. (2016, June 17). Wildfires can have major impact on water quality. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/wildfires-have-major-impact-on-waterquality/article30512613/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

Waskom, R., Kallenberger, B., Bauder, T. (2017). Addressing the impacts of wildfire on water resources. Retrieved from: http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/natural-resources/addressing-the-impacts-of-wildfire-on-water-resources-6-706/

Neary, D., Ryan, K., DeBano, L. (2008). Wildland fire in ecosystems, effects of fire on soil and water. Retrieved from: https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_journals/2015/rmrs_2015_aregai_t001.pdf 

Tecle, A., Neary, D. (2015, July 14). Water quality impacts of forest fires. Journal of Pollution Effects and Control. 3:140.