Ontario deploys fire crews to help fight Alberta wildfires

By Daniel Adam
Staff Writer

The Alberta government declared a state of emergency last week after wildfires led to tens of thousands of people evacuating their homes.

As of publication, Alberta’s wildfire status dashboard says there are 92 active fires, with 27 of them deemed “out of control.” In the past five years combined, Alberta wildfires have burned a total of 393,767.67 hectares by this time of year. In 2023 so far, their wildfires have burned 694,516.61 hectares as of press time.

When fire information officer Alison Bezubiak spoke to the Times on May 11, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) had exported 79 Ontario fire rangers to Alberta to help fight wildfires. She also said eight task force leaders, two agency representatives, and a 21-person incident management team have been deployed.

“We know that situation is very serious out there,” said Bezubiak. 

“We’re committed to helping as much as we can while maintaining the capacity to respond here in Ontario.”

She said there are sufficient resources ready to respond to any wildfires that might occur here. Thankfully, this fire season in Ontario is off to another slow start. Since the start of the season on April 1, 2023, Bezubiak said there had been less than 20 wildland fires in the entire province. The 10-year average for this time is 67.

Though things are under control, Bezubiak did say Ontario is experiencing challenges with the availability of candidates for wildland firefighter positions.

“We’re continuing to explore and diversify our recruitment and retention strategies while competing against various other industries from the same shrinking recruitment pool,” she said. 

However, Bezubiak said AFFES have mutual aid partnerships set up with municipalities and Indigenous communities, other wildland fire management agencies across Canada and with the United States to assist if Ontario resource levels become challenged. 

“These agreements can supply us with additional wildland firefighters as needed to support wildland fire response in Ontario,” she said.

To limit human-caused wildfires, Bezubiak shared the following reminders for spring hazards:

• Day burning is restricted during fire season which runs from April 1 to October 31. Ground cover fuels like grasses, pine needles, and leaf litter can dry out quickly in low humidity spring weather which can lead to hazardous conditions. 

“Since this is the time of year when people tend to be cleaning up their properties following the snowmelt, there is a higher degree of concern for human-caused fires,” said Bezubiak. “So if you do have to dispose of yard waste or woody debris, we encourage everybody to use methods such as composting or just using the local landfill. But if you do have to burn, you can follow Ontario’s outdoor burning regulations.”

• Fires are to be ignited no sooner than two hours before sunset and extinguished no later than two hours after sunrise. You should always have tools and water available to contain the fire. 

The full set of outdoor burning regulations can be found at ontario.ca/outdoorburning.