Fire season still blazing, burning rules continue

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Across the northwestern region, there is only one active blaze, but the risk of forest fire isn’t extinguished yet.
Chris Marchand, information officer in the northwestern region for the Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services, said the forest fire hazard is still quite high in the Fort Frances area, along the Minnesota border as well as in Kenora.
“There is still some good potential for fires to happen,” Marchand said. “The fire season doesn’t really end until October 31. In terms of the public we ask people to remain vigilant in terms of their use of fire outside, especially burning piles. The typical rules around outdoor burning don’t change until October 31.”
One fire is currently burning. It is located on a peninsula near Lake Nipigon and has been under observation for a month and has burned about 100 hectares. The Forest Fire Danger Rating is currently rated High in the Rainy River region.
Marchand said the AFFES comes up with the forest fire hazard based on a variety of indexes. He said they measure the amount of moisture in different field types and different layers of the soil and ground. They also measure the amount of moisture in the grass.
When all these numbers are combined together along with the wind speed and relative humidities for the day, it gives a picture of how receptive conditions will be to actually catching fire.
“We use a lot of data that we collect once or twice a day to run those numbers to a formula and see what those fire conditions are in about 120 different locations across the whole province,” Marchand said.
Marchand said the most common cause of fires in the spring is human activity resulting from an escaped campfire or a brush pile that they are burning. This is the case until late June when lightening becomes the primary reason for fires on the landscape.
“It differs depending on where you are in the province. Places with higher population densities have a higher percentage of human-caused fires versus lightening. In the northwest it is usually about a 70 per cent lightening versus 30 per cent human-induced.”
Marchand said all things considered, the number of fires and hectares burned are very low, even with the disruptive fires in Red Lake 49 and Fort Hope, which resulted in evacuations.
“There were some successes this year in terms of the Red Lake 49, which was a fire that originated very close to a populated area in the Red Lake sector and it received a very aggressive response and by a lot of hard work managed to see a good resolution. An entire community of 4,000 was evacuated and no properties were lost in that fire.”
Marchand added that COVID-19 also changed the way they approach fires.
Normally in a typical year, there would be more room to assess a fire on the landscape, if it was at a significant distance from people or property that you can let that fire burn on the landscape and achieve its ecological role in renewing that area and doing all the beneficial things that fires does,” Marchand said.
“This year with COVID-19, the approach was to really be aggressive in tackling a lot of these fires, keeping them small and making sure that they didn’t emerge into larger problems that would take a larger toll on our resources. We wanted to make sure that we had good resources at all times to respond to fires on the landscape.”
To date, there have been 598 fires across Ontario, 361 of which were in the northwestern region. The fires in the northwestern region burned about 13,782 hectares out of 15,450 hectares burned across the province.
Last year, there were 533 fires across Ontario, which burned about 200,000 hectares. According to Marchand, those were very high numbers.