Wildfire season is here

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

With a fairly dry winter in many parts of the northwest region, particularly in the west near the Manitoba boundary, it’s hard to predict what the fire season will look like throughout the summer.

Chris Marchand, fire information officer with the Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services centre in Dryden, said since the beginning of April, crews with engines and aircrafts at various fire management headquarters around the region have been on high alert to respond to fires on the landscape.

“It’s very difficult to speculate on what the long-term weather trends are going to be, and that really shapes the fire hazard. And in very different ways, depending on where it manifests all over this region. It’s a massive geographical area.

Since the beginning of April, they have had 20 fires in the province – a number that sits slightly under the 10-year-average for the season to date, Marchand said. The 10-year-average to date is 21 fires.

Although Marchand said it is difficult to speculate what will shape the fire hazard, they have been lucky enough to see some moderating influence from the weather in recent weeks that has helped keep the hazard in check and kept fire starts to what they would expect to see.

Marchand said during this time of year, they are prone to seeing grass fires in travel corridors, the sides of the road and grassy areas.

“A big concern for the firefighting branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is grassfire and other fine dried fuel types, that have yet to green up this spring, which are abundant in Fort Frances and Emo where you have those agricultural areas with big areas of grass fuel,” Marchand said. “These are fine fuels that can become receptive to fire quickly under the right conditions.”

These fires take place around the woodland urban interface areas where the bush meets more built-up areas.

The fuels are very fine, thin and dried out from being dormant in the winter season, Marchand said, adding that they have not taken up that moisture yet in the spring that gives them some resilience and resistance to fire.

“In the spring, we’re always stressing that people be careful if they have yard cleanup in mind or want to burn piles of brush,” Marchand said. We like to try to get people to think about alternatives to burning that big pile of brush or woody debris. Some alternatives to that might be composting, hauling it to a landfill or simply waiting until the fall to burn those piles or ideally after the fire season on October 31.”

However, Marchand added, if residents decide to burn their piles, they have to have a good grasp on Ontario’s outdoor burning regulations that are designed to minimize the opportunity for a fire to get out of control.

“They’re designed to keep people from burning during the times of day when the winds are at their highest and the humidity is at its lowest,” Marchand said. “From 1p.m. To 4 p.m. is where we really get a lot of new fire starts. And if the fire is going to get away from you, it’s usually happening in that period. People should have some water and some hand tools close by to keep those fires under control.”

On top of that, Marchand said residents should also check the rules with their local fire department in their municipality.

“When it comes to things like campfires, we ask people to try to keep them small and sheltered from the winds and well away from surrounding trees and overhanging limbs,” Marchand said. “And to not leave them unattended and to make sure that they’re really dead out when you leave the scene.”

You can find a full list of Ontario’s burning regulations at ontario.ca/forestfire.