Start now to stop forest fires

Start now to stop forest fires

16 March 2008

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Nova Scotia, Canada — While snow is still falling, grass and forest fire season is not far away and staffers at the Department of Natural Resources want to see the loss of land to fire drop again, as it did last year.

Department statistics show that the 393 wildland fires represented a 70 per cent increase from the previous year, but only 711 hectares were lost.

That’s compared with 234 fires and 1,576 hectares in 2006.

The 10-year average is 325.5 fires and 779 hectares.

Late March is the unofficial start of the fire season, when many people head outside to burn off fields or patches of grass before they require permits to do so.

While some people still think this is part of a spring ritual or is needed for good field growth, department spokeswoman Diane LeBlanc says that’s not the case

“We discourage the practice,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s not particularly beneficial to the ground.”

Burning leaves is illegal, and while branches and brush may be burned, Ms. LeBlanc said that should happen in the winter, when good snow cover prevents the easy spread of fire.

A better strategy, she said, is to plow them under or compost them to help the soil and future growth.

If you are going to do some kind of burning, you need the appropriate permit from department or your municipality after April 1, and some municipalities don’t allow burning within their limits.

Anyone doing so also needs to have firefighting equipment nearby, whether it is a garden hose, fire extinguisher or shovel. Permits also require that fires be monitored at all times because they can spread quickly, even in the early spring.

“Within hours of snow melting, the dead grass becomes very flammable,” Ms. LeBlanc said.

“People think the ground is damp, but it’s not, and fire can jump patches of snow.”

She said the burning of grass and runaway fires in fields can destroy unseen habitats for creatures such as mice and voles, and can also spread and cause more damage.

“It’s not just habitat; it’s buildings and forest,” she said.

Last year’s reduced losses were thanks largely to the efforts of firefighters from Natural Resources and from municipalities across the province, the department said.

The high number of fires last year was mostly due to a dry spring and human activities, said Robert Uttaro, supervisor of fire management for the department.

“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,” he said.

“After green-up, the woods stay lush until dry weather conditions remove moisture from forest fuels.”

April and May, after the snow melts and before the woodlands get green, are the highest-risk months for fire. Last year, 319 of the 393 fires occurred during those months.

Last year also saw an increase in arson, with 152 fires destroying 293 hectares. The previous year, there were 61 reported arson fires.

Arson was a real problem around Sydney River last spring and accounted for almost one-third of all fires and one-quarter of the total land loss in Cape Breton County.

Department statistics show the second biggest cause was residential sources, with 133 fires burning 186 hectares. Many of those fires were ignited by people burning garbage, brush piles or grasslands.

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