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Comparing Ontario's fire season


More hectares of forest have been affected by fires this year than in years past
More hectares of forest have been affected by fires this year than in years past

Sana Ahmed, staff writer

August 17, 2011 — Although the fire season in Ontario seems heightened this year, officials say there is only one main difference.

Smoke inhalation can cause respiratory problems
Smoke inhalation can cause respiratory problems

Other than the number of hectares covered, this season’s fires aren’t particularly different than previous years, according to Gabby Rivard, an information officer at the Ministry of Natural Resources.

“There really is no difference in the type of fire season this year other than the amount of hectares that have been burned. In comparison to previous years, we’ve had much more hectares burned this year,” she says.

Since 1961, Ontario has seen an average of 636 fires per season. So far this year, the province has seen more than 900.

In 2010, fires affected about 14,000 hectares of forest; this year, more than 600,000 hectares have been scorched.

Crews have had to constantly contend with new fires.

“It’s been a continuous battle with ongoing fires and new starts from (lightning strikes) with weather systems that keep passing through,” says Rivard.

Storm-damaged forest is more susceptible to forest fires (Couresty Ministry of Natural Resources)
Storm-damaged forest is more susceptible to forest fires (Couresty Ministry of Natural Resources)

In addition to sparking fires, severe weather damages large areas of forest, making them more susceptible to fire.

“One of the biggest problems we’re dealing with in northwestern Ontario is storm-damaged forest,” says Mitch Miller, another information officer with the MNR.

Large forest “blowdowns” make it harder for firefighters to reach existing fires and generate lots of fuel for new fires.

“It's like a giant campfire,” Miller says. “It's very difficult to fight fires like that because you can't simply put firefighters around it -- it's not safe.”

Tuesday's tornado near Dryden flattened about 300 hectares of forest. Miller says the MNR may decide to conduct a prescribed burn -- deliberately set a controlled fire to reduce the fuel available to wildfires -- in the area next year.

In addition to the stormy weather, crews in the region have faced two other major challenges: smoke inhalation and extreme heat.

Smoke inhalation

Last month, thousands of people were forced out of their homes because of fears of smoke inhalation. Rivard says the main reason why people were evacuated was because of the potential for respiratory problems.

Extreme heat

“The weather’s heat makes firefighters so tired, so they always have to stay hydrated and refreshed,” explains Rivard.

The region has received assistance from many Canadian provinces and American states including, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories, Michigan and Minnesota.

With files from Alexandra Pope and Rachel Telford

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