Canada — October 31 marks the end of a summer of massive destruction of forests in Ontario.
This past season was an unusually rough year for forest fires in Ontario. In fact it was one of the worst years ever, according to fresh statistics just released by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
The 2011 forest fire season recorded significantly more fires in Ontario than 2010 with a much greater area affected. As of Monday October 31, the official end of the fire season, 1,330 forest fires were recorded affecting an incredible 632,533 hectares. This compares with 20,565 hectares burned in 2009 and 14,823 hectares of forest land burned in 2010.
In fact, the MNR statement says the land area fires that burned this past summer in Ontario was the biggest land area in the last 50 years. One of the worst years for forest fires was way back in 1922, said the MNR release, when more than 800,000 hectares were destroyed.
Much of the area burned in Ontario in 2011 was due to a handful of very large fires, said the MNR news release. In fact, 2011 saw the largest fire recorded in Ontario historySioux Lookout 70 at 141,000 hectares. Another fire, Sioux Lookout 35, reached 112,000 hectares to become the eighth-largest fire on record. These two fires alone accounted for approximately 40 per cent of the total area burned. This is the first time since 1980 that Ontario has had two individual fires of greater than 100,000 hectares in the same season, said the release.
The MNR said the 2011 fire season was extraordinary because of the concentration of difficult fires in the northern parts of the Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Nipigon districts. These fires arose from frequent lightning storms combined with hot, dry and often windy weather. Smoke from these fires affected a number of communities and businesses and led to community evacuations due to health concerns and in some cases direct fire threat.
In total, 4,476 people from 11 northern communities were evacuated between July 21 and August 9. Some communities were evacuated twice. The evacuees were moved to 15 host communities across Ontario. The evacuation effort involved many agencies including Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), Emergency Management Ontario (EMO), non-government organizations (such as the Red Cross), First Nations, host communities and the Department of National Defence. EMO and MNR worked together to schedule over 250 flights to move people fromand back to, their home communities, said the release.
The Government of Canada will be responsible for paying for the costs of the evacuation effort, said the MNR.
The ministry also said 2011 was a challenging season and despite valiant efforts nine structural values were lost to fire. However, many more cottages, tourist camps, timber values and industrial values were successfully protected.
On average, the aviation and fire management program spends approximately $119 million per year. Every year is different due to differences in fire occurrence and fire behaviour. Fire operating costs have ranged from $65 to $175 million annually over the past ten years. The 2011 fire operational spending is approximately $229.9 million. Spending for 2010 was approximately $99.7 million.