All MNR eyes on drying bush

All MNR eyes on drying bush

16 March 2010

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Canada — The Ministry of Natural Resources is monitoring the quickly melting snow and drying forests, and is preparing to bring firefighting resources on line as needed.

“(Right now) we‘re proceeding for a normal start to the fire season in the West Fire Region,” Deb MacLean, a fire information officer based at the Dryden Fire Management Centre, said Monday.

Having said that, MacLean noted that the ministry‘s Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services program is designed “to expand and contract according to the situation, so if there is an early start to the fire season the fire resources will be brought on earlier to respond to that change.”

The official start of the 2010 forest fire season is April 1.

“We have had a dry winter and if the trend continues there may be a dry spring,‘‘ she said. “Of course the weather forecast is always short term and spring rains could offset the dry conditions.

“Weather specialists with the AFFES program are monitoring the situation closely and advising the response section on the conditions in the forest,” she said, adding that FireRanger crew leaders are to sart work at the beginning of April, and by mid-April crew members will be showing up.

“Aircraft and equipment resources are all at a normal status, with the waterbombers and air attack doing training in the early spring and operating on fires as the ice clears from the area lakes and rivers,” she said.

MacLean said human behaviour can also affect the early spring fire situation.

“If people begin their spring burning of brush and grass piles in and around their rural residences and cottages under drier-than-normal conditions, their fires run a higher risk of escaping and becoming wildfires,” MacLean said.

“With that in mind we are cautioning people that we‘re heading into spring with below normal winter snow levels and a quick melt could result in higher fire hazards which they must consider when lighting any outdoor fires.”

For more information on safe burning, visit the ministry website,

As for the new name for its firefighting resources, MacLean said that over the winter there was a realignment within the ministry and the forest firefighting branch is now called aviation, forest fire and emergency services. It was formerly called aviation and forest fire management.

Last year, the ministry spent $92 million on fire operations across the province during the forest fire season. That‘s slightly higher than the $85 million spent the previous year, due to slightly more fires and significantly more square kilometres of forest burned.

On average, the aviation and fire management program spends $119 million per year, with operating expenditures ranging from $65 million to $175 million annually over the past 10 years.

Across the province, the 2009 forest fire season had the second-lowest number of fires in the past 50 years. The 2008 fire season was the lowest on record.

There were 384 fires in Ontario between April 1 and Oct. 31, 2009, that burned 206.56 square kilometres of land.

In 2008, 341 fires blackened 13.16 square kilometres of forestland.

The 10-year average number of forest fires in Ontario is 1,160, that consume 1,083.37 square kilometres.

MacLean said the past two seasons‘ low fire numbers were primarily due to cool, wet weather which helped reduce the chance of ignition by lightning strikes and of recreational fires spreading.

The West Fire Region recorded 194 fires that burned 139.34 square kilometres, while the East Fire Region recorded 190 fires that burned 67.21 square kilometres.

MacLean said 104 West region fires were the result of human activity, 84 were caused by lightning and six were classed as unknown cause.

In the East, there were 71 fires caused by human activity, 37 by lightning and eight classed as unknown cause.

With the quiet 2009 fire season, the ministry‘s fire program provided a record-setting level of support to other fire jurisdictions with several dispatches of personnel and equipment to British Columbia. It also provided an opportunity for ongoing training for the FireRangers, and research and development on firefighting techniques and equipment, such as field testing operations in storm damaged timber.

Fire personnel across the region provided interagency wildfire training to volunteer firefighters and municipal fire departments. They also worked with organizations such as the tourist industry to deliver FireSmart messages.

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