MNR wary of early fire season

MNRwary of early fire season

21 February 2007

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Fort Frances,Ontario,Canada — Withfar below average snowfall this winter, and a dry summer and fall before that,the stage is set for a possibly early and very busy fire season for the localMinistry of Natural Resources.

    “Right now, we’re probably at 30 percent of our normalrange with snowfall. We’re at the ’58 or ’59 snow levels. It’s thelowest amount of snow we’ve had in almost 50 years,” said local forest firemanagement supervisor Harrold Boven.

    “We went into the winter with drought-like conditions.Everything was dry and, up until this point, we haven’t the snow,” he added.“Water lines are freezing and water levels are low on the lakes.

    “We’re monitoring it. As the snow goes, we’reanticipating that there may be a need to restrict open air burning sooner,”continued Boven.

    “We’re asking who’s looking at doing any agriculturalor industrial-type burning prior the fire season starting should check withtheir local municipal office or the MNR.

    “They’re responsible for that fire, so let’s do it soit doesn’t cause problems.”

    While the weather forecast can always change, and Rainy RiverDistrict may end up having a very wet spring like in 2005, Boven noted currentdata for the 90-day outlook for precipitation in February-April doesn’t looklike there will be any significant snowfall or rain.

    “It’s going to take quite a bit of rain—I think in the100-mm range—to get things into the normal range. That’s four or five inchesof rain,” he remarked.

    “The short long-range looks like we’re going into a dryspring with above normal temperatures. But we need to play it day-by-day,”added Boven.

    Boven noted the MNR met with municipal fire chiefs in Januaryto discuss the low snow levels and potential dry spring conditions. “Thepossibility could exist that we may need to go into the spring with earlierrestrictions,” he reiterated.

    “If the snow were to go away sooner, then everything isdrier quicker because the run-off isn’t there,” he stressed.

    “So then open air burning would be restricted soonerbecause the moisture levels aren’t in the ground, especially in the peat areaswhere you don’t want fires to go down and cause more problems.”

    Boven noted four peat fires in the district currently arebeing watched, including one in Barwick, one in Stratton, and two in DawsonTownship.

    “With the areas where we have the peat fires right now,some action will need to be taken by the landowners jointly to prevent them fromspreading where they currently are,” said Boven.

    “Some of the landowners have done some action on them, someof them haven’t.

    “But there’s dead grass right beside them. If the snowgoes on a dry, windy day in the spring, you’re going to see ‘sprint’coming out of the peat,” he warned.

    “A lot of things could still happen—if we do get themoisture levels, some of them may go out. The municipal fire departments andlandowners are going to need to monitor them.”

    Last month, the MNR flew a plane over the region to monitorthe land and check for fire activity “to make sure there’s no surprises inthe spring,” said Boven.

    “There were almost 140 fires going into the fall thatweren’t ‘out,’ so to speak. That was a concern going into the fall—thatwith the amount of moisture, they would get into the roots or old roadbeds andsmoulder all winter,” he remarked.

    But Boven noted “nothing was observed in the area” duringthe January fly-over. The MNR is looking at doing an infrared sweep in the nearfuture.

    The MNR’s fire season officially runs from April 1-Oct. 31each year.

    Last year’s fire season started off with an average amountof activity, but soon became extremely hectic for the MNR, with fires happeningin separate concentrated bursts of activity in July, August, and especiallySeptember.

    There ended up being a total of more than 1,700 fires lastseason, consuming 144,500 hectares.

    This was 1,000 more fires than the 10-year average of 716,but the hectarage burned was, in fact, lower than the 10-year average of 180,000ha.

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