Firefighters credited for reducing area burned by forest fires

Firefighters credited for reducing area burned by forest fires

13 March 2008

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Nova Scotia, Canada — The provincial Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is largely crediting the efforts of firefighters for the reduction in area consumed by forest fires in 2007 compared to 2006. The actual number of fires consuming and threatening woodland was higher in 2007 than in 2006, but the total area burned was less than half.

Recent statistics from DNR indicate there were 393 such fires in 2007, an increase of almost 70 per cent from 2006, but the total area consumed was only 711 hectares or 1,756 acres, less than half that consumed in 2006.

Kings South MLA and Natural Resources Minister David Morse said it’s a tribute to the hard work and expertise in fighting fires that our province’s natural areas are being protected from the devastating effects of fire.

“Through the quick response of firefighting crews from our department as well as municipal and volunteer fire departments across the province, the destruction from those fires was greatly reduced,” Morse said.

Dry spring, careless and criminal activity

Fire crews from the 30 DNR depots were first responders on 95 fires last year. The department oversees about four million hectares in our province, excluding federal land and incorporated municipalities and towns.

Robert Uttaro, DNR supervisor of fire management, said the high fire count from last season was attributed mostly to a dry spring as well as careless and criminal human activities.

“Before the vegetation greens up later in May or early June, grasses and forest fuels are in a very dry state and at high risk of fire. After green-up, the woods stay lush until dry weather conditions remove moisture from forest fuels,” he said.

Kentville Fire Chief Shawn Ripley said if the wind is blowing and it’s very dry with no humidity, a cigarette ash could start a woodland fire. Wind can carry fire for miles in a very short period and this is why they’re called wildfires.

“They can travel faster than you can run,” Ripley said, pointing out this is why firefighters concentrate on the perimeter of such fires to cut them off before attacking the centre. You have to stay upwind of it so you don’t get cornered and such fires can move uphill quickly.

He said, “we’ve been very lucky in this county that we haven’t lost more houses to wildfires because there have been some bad ones over the years.”

Wolfville Fire Chief Tim MacLeod said when it’s sunny, windy and dry, something as simple as a discarded piece of glass can magnify the sun’s rays and spark a brush or forest fire. However, he said the cause is usually related to human error.

MacLeod said forest fires could be very dangerous situations. Flames can leap and crest over trees in a hurry on windy days and larger fires can create their own wind. There is strategy involved in tackling these fires.

“You can’t fight it head-on or you’d be consumed as well,” MacLeod said.

Burning not an acceptable practice

Canning Fire Department Deputy Chief Scott Cruickshank said the weather plays the biggest part in determining if conditions are right for brush fires or forest fires. It doesn’t take long for the wind and sun to dry the land. He said their department battled a large woods fire around the first of April in 2007 and it was the biggest they had to deal with all year.

He said fire departments are trying to get the point across that burning is not an acceptable practice anymore. For example, people can get permits to burn brush from worksites or small scraps of lumber from construction projects, but it’s illegal to burn any sort of refuse or waste resource under solid waste bylaws.

Fires can get out of control quickly and Cruickshank said his department has experienced people unintentionally burning down buildings when trying to burn materials in their yards, even when using metal barrels to contain the flames.

He said it’s very hard to fight forest fires. To get the best view, you have to be looking down on them. It’s hard to see the big picture when you’re not sure what type of landscape or geography you’re dealing with. Wooded areas can be difficult to access and navigate.

“You have to try to get the lay of the land,” Cruickshank said. The biggest thing is figuring out the best way to approach fighting the fire and where to place equipment and human resources. For example, there could be a nearby water source you could utilize.

If people must burn brush, DNR encourages them to do so in the winter, preferably with snow on the ground. The period between the spring snowmelt and the green-up of the woodlands – April and May – are the months when forests are at the highest risk of fire. Last year, 319 fires burned through Nova Scotia woodlands during April and May.

Arson accounted for 152 fires last year, almost 39 per cent of woodland fires, destroying 293 hectares. In 2006, there were 61 reported arson fires.

The next leading cause was residential sources, with 133 fires burning 186 hectares. Residents burning garbage, brush or grassland ignited those fires. This dangerous practice was responsible for burning 74 hectares.

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