Canada — The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Aviation and Forest Fire Management Branch reports that provincially, the 2009 forest fire season was the second lowest recorded number of forest fires in Ontario in the past 50 years. The lowest year on record was 2008.
The total number of fires this season was 384, burning 20,656 hectares of land.
The 2009 fire season officially ended on October 31 and was close behind the 2008 forest fire season in Ontario which had 341 fires burning 1,316 hectares.
The ten year average number of forest fires in Ontario is 1,160 burning 108,337 hectares.
These low activity seasons are mostly the result of cool, wet weather which helps reduce the chance of fires spreading from outdoor fires that people set, and reduces the chance of ignition due to lightning strikes.
The fire response system in Ontario is designed to expand and scale back according to the fire danger so it is always operating in an efficient manner.
As an emergency fire response resource for Ontario, as well as other provinces in Canada and also the United States the ministry always has to be prepared to respond immediately to protect people, their property and industrial values. This requires maintaining a highly trained workforce and ongoing research and development to constantly improve fire response techniques and equipment.
Record setting levels of support to another fire jurisdiction were provided this year with dispatches of personnel and equipment to British Columbia which had a very active fire season from the end of July through to mid-September.
Just over 1,000 individuals from the ministry’s aviation and fire program were involved including most of Ontario’s FireRangers. Some had two deployments and a few were dispatched three times. A total of 21,605 person days of support were provided over a period of 67 days. This exceeds the previous largest dispatch of approximately 15,000 person days to Montana in 2000.
In a huge logistics effort, over 17,000 pieces of forest fire fighting equipment were packaged and transported to British Columbia and aviation services provided two CL-415 heavy water bombers.
While providing this level of support, Ontario preparedness levels were maintained to ensure adequate numbers of forest fire fighting staff and aircraft were positioned and that base support services and supplies/equipment were ready to address any forest fire risk.
In another significant event, FireRangers and support personnel provided assistance with clean up efforts in tornado and storm damaged areas around the communities of Vaughan and Durham as well as the resort area of Blue Mountain, Ontario.
Fire personnel and FireRangers also attended four major public events this year including the Toronto Sportsman’s Show, the Toronto Cottage Life Show, the Ottawa Cottage Life Show and the Earlton International Plowing Match. They showed how the ministry’s aviation and fire management program works and distributed FireSmart prevention information and showcased career opportunities.
Aviation Services continued its fleet renewal program with the addition of another EC130B4 helicopter this year, used during the season by the fire program. One of the long serving Bell helicopters was retired and has been subsequently sold to a private operator elsewhere in Canada.
On average, the aviation and fire management program expends $119 million per year. Every year is different as a result of variability in fire occurrence and fire behaviour. Fire operating expenditures have ranged from $65 to $175 million annually over the past ten years. The 2009 fire operational spending is approximately $92 million, higher than the 2008 spending of $85 million due to slightly more fires and significantly more hectares burned.
Preparations are underway for the 2010 forest fire season with equipment repair and aircraft maintenance as well as staff training and upgrading.
The East Fire Region recorded 190 fires burning 6,721 hectares during the 2009 fire season. In the East Fire Region there were 71 fires caused by human activity with improperly extinguished campfires and grass and/or brush burning.
Lightning was the cause of 84 of the fires in the West Fire Region and 37 fires in the East Fire Region while six fires in the west and eight fires in the east were classed as an unknown cause.
The quiet 2009 fire season provided an opportunity for ongoing proficiency training for the FireRangers, and research and development on firefighting techniques and equipment such as field testing operations in storm damaged timber was also done.
FireRangers from the East Fire Region and the West Fire Region, along with support personnel from each region, participated in the deployment of Ontario resources to British Columbia, first early in 2009 and then again from the end of July through to mid-September.
As well as being deployed out-of-province, FireRangers in the East Fire were dispatched during the month of August to assist with tornado damage clean up in the areas of Vaughan, Durham and Blue Mountain. Those who assisted in southern Ontario spent much of their time in parks and woodlots clearing downed trees. Chainsaws and other support equipment were also provided by the ministry to support the clean-up effort.
FireRangers also spent time assisting Ontario Parks through various assignments.
The grand opening of the Hearst Fire Attack Base in the East Fire Region took place in September. This modernized base will help protect northern communities and the region’s forest resources. The new office building and warehouse are strategically located to respond to fires in a large part of northern Ontario, including the Hearst, Hornepayne and Kapuskasing areas.
In addition, work continued on innovative projects in wildfire detection, forest fire suppression equipment testing and the development of green projects such as industrial composting to eliminate waste.
A group of Ontario FireRangers representing all wildland firefighters participated in the 2009 Canadian Fallen Firefighters Ceremony in Ottawa on Parliament Hill in September. This was the second year that Ontario FireRangers were in attendance.
Fire Management Headquarters at districts within the West Fire Region reported the signing of fire response agreements with First Nations communities that will provide many benefits of partnership in forest fire management, and development of FireSmart initiatives as well as training and community involvement for years to come.
Work continued on reduction of storm-damaged forested areas through industry harvesting and a small prescribed burn. With thousands of hectares of storm and insect damaged forest in the region, the future risk of fire danger continues in the region.
Progress was also made on ecology-based fires in the region where some fires were monitored as they burned off storm and insect damaged forest. These fires were located within conservation reserves and parks or areas with fire response plans that recognize the benefit of fire as a way to restore natural ecosystems. All such fires received a fire assessment and were monitored until they were declared out.
Fire personnel at districts across the region also provided interagency wildfire training to volunteer firefighters and municipal fire departments. They also worked with various organizations such as the tourist industry to deliver FireSmart messages. One of the ways that fire staff would deliver the FireSmart messaging was to have “Smokey Fridays”. Smokey and FireRangers would visit cottage country downtowns and hand out information on safe campfires and fire prevention.