Fire season a busy one

With the Ministry of Natural Resources fire season having officially wrapped up Monday, the numbers show 2005 proved to be a much busier year than 2004.
MNR fire information officer Deb MacLean reported last week that the Northwest Region saw a total of 518 fires since April 1, consuming 31,628.9 hectares of forest.
“It was a slow start to the 2005 fire season in the Northwest Region until June,” she noted. “Still, compared to 2004, this year had more fires and more area burned.
“In 2004, there were record-breaking lows with 210 fires and 1,360.5 hectares.”
A better measure of the 2005 fire season, said MacLean, is against the 10-year average for the Northwest Region, which is 716 fires and 180,169.6 ha burned over each year.
While the number of fires this season was close to the average, the amount of area burned was significantly lower than average.
The MNR credits this to successful, effective initial attack on all fires by Ontario FireRanger crews and air attack, resulting in hundreds of small blazes being extinguished quickly.
Here in Fort Frances District, there was a total of 46 fires since April 1, consuming 758.3 ha.
“The fire season started slowly there and it wasn’t until the end of July that fire numbers started to increase,” noted MacLean, relaying input she had garnered from the local fire management headquarters.
“Quetico Provincial Park was probably the highlight of fire activity in Fort Frances District this summer,” she added.
There were six “prescribed fires” in the park (fires that occurred naturally within a predetermined zone and allowed to burn under monitoring by park staff) and four “managed” ones (fires that started outside predetermined zones, but allowed to burn anyway while being monitored).
One of those fires, Fort Frances #14, consumed about 430 ha., accounting for more than half of the charred bush here this year.
MacLean noted Quetico staff will be following up on the effect of the prescribed and managed fires, and determine if they will—as planned—benefit the park in terms of renewal and re-growth.
A significant characteristic of the Northwest Region each year includes extensive storm-damaged forests, which fuel wildfires and result in extreme fire behaviour, posing tremendous challenges to the forest fire management program, said MacLean.
In total, there were seven large-scale project fires in the Northwest Region this season, she added. These were in the Thunder Bay and Nipigon districts.
A Restricted Fire Zone was declared in August as extreme temperatures and drought conditions, along with heavily-committed firefighting resources, prompted fire managers to ban all outdoor fires with the aim to reduce the risk of new blazes.
Emergency Area Orders also were declared for some fires to allow road closures and restrictions into places where large fires were being managed.
The Northwest Region also was able to provide support resources to the East Fire Region and Quebec in the early part of the season since this area was not experiencing severe forest fires at that time.
But as July and August brought multiple fire starts and large blazes here, the roles reversed and the Northwest Region was able to benefit from equipment, personnel, and aircraft resources from each of the western provinces, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Nova Scotia, and Parks Canada.
“With this amazing commitment of resources and dedicated effort, the 2005 fire season ended with a great track record of responding to fires, managing them well, and keeping the areas burned below average,” said MacLean.
While the MNR fire season officially ended Oct. 31, MacLean noted that doesn’t mean the public should let down their guard.
“That doesn’t end the responsibility of people. They still have to be responsible with their outdoor fires,” she stressed. “They’re still going to have to answer if one of their fires isn’t properly put out.
“Fall clean-up, brush piles, and things like that—these still have to be properly monitored and managed, and not just lit and walked away from,” she warned.

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