Nova Scotia, Canada — Each spring in Nova Scotia, grass fires that are intentionally set to clear away old vegetation and yard debris blaze out of control and destroy hundreds of hectares of wild land.
“Annual burning has become a rite of spring in parts of Nova Scotia. But the practice does far more harm than good,” said Natural Resources Minister David Morse. “There are certainly safer and more environmentally friendly ways to clear up grasslands. Nature does a fine job of recycling itself and we discourage people from using fire to clear their land.”
As soon as the snow cover melts, grass and dead vegetation become flammable. Grass fires burn hot and fast, and can spread quickly around — even over patches of snow.
Last year, out-of-control grass fires in Nova Scotia accounted for more than 10 per cent of all fire damaged areas, or 74.3 hectares of land.
People are often caught off-guard by how quickly wind-driven grass fires can travel. They can destroy nearby homes and property, as well as native trees and shrubs crucial to the prevention of soil erosion. The fires also destroy wildlife and habitat for birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Even large animals or pets can be caught in fast-moving fires.
Some people burn off old grass believing the new crop will come in greener. But burning robs the soil of valuable organic fertilizing material. If plants are plowed under, vital minerals are naturally returned to the soil rather than going up in smoke.
“Of course, the grass looks greener, set against a backdrop of charred ground,” said Robert Uttaro, supervisor of fire management for the Department of Natural Resources. “The new grass will be the same colour, but the burning actually reduces the new crop.”
Contrary to popular belief, grass burning also does not control weeds. Weeds dropped seeds in the soil in the fall, and burning creates an ideal bare-soil bed for weeds to flourish.
Many grass fires can also be associated with arson. Last year, more than 150 arson-related fires destroyed 283 hectares of Nova Scotia’s wildlands.
Under the Forests Act, individuals who burn grass and debris are responsible for the consequences of the fire. If the fire gets out of control, they may be liable for the cost of fighting the fire, the destruction of others’ property and face criminal penalties for violating burning regulations.