Every year, Canadians flock to cottages and campsites or look to spend as much time as they can in the backyard. And gathering around a campfire is one of the real joys of being outdoors.
But people need to be aware of the risk of wildfires.
“In general, it is highest when conditions are hot, dry and windy, often prompting a fire ban,” says Lynn Johnston, forest fire research specialist for the Canadian Forest Service, in our interview with her.
Fire season is getting longer but many fires are preventable
In Canada’s boreal region, which spans much of the country, wildfire season tends to begin in May and end in October.
Although the number of wildfires has been declining, fire season is starting sooner and going later into the fall for some regions. According to Natural Resources Of Canada, by 2100, fire season may have lengthened by more than a month in areas such as central and eastern Quebec, and northern B.C. Furthermore, according to the National Forestry Database, in 2019 there were 3,921 forest fires and 1.84 million hectares of forest area burned, a decrease from 2017, where there was 5,652 fires and 3.42 million hectares burned.
Research has shown a gradual increase over the past 50 years in wildfires, says Johnston, which is primarily attributed to climate change. She says she expects to see dramatic increases in more unmanageable fires.
“Fires need an ignition source – either lightning or people,” she says. “Many unwanted fires can be prevented if people are conscious of the risk and avoid providing the spark.”
It’s up to people to help reduce the risks
Springtime in Ontario this year saw an uptick in fires, says Delbert Blakney, fire inspector with Kingston Fire & Rescue, in our interview with him. During the COVID-19 lockdown, people were home more and having backyard fires for enjoyment or to burn debris. Burning brush in windy conditions or not having adequate clearance of combustibles from surrounding structures can make fires quickly get out of control.
“The majority of wildfires are preventable,” Blakney says.
People need to know how “dangerous fire is when we have periods of very dry weather and the temperature is high,” says John McKearney, fire chief for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, B.C., in our interview with him.
“I am very concerned, looking forward,” he says. “We are a mountain resort here. Trees are precious. We have huge beautiful trees all around in close proximity to buildings here. We spend a lot of time worrying about best practices to prevent a wild, urban interface fire scenario.”
Expert tips on preventing wildfires
According to these fire prevention specialists, people should take the following precautions:
If you’re planning a fire:
- Check with your municipal office or Ministry of Natural Resources for burning restrictions or bylaws before burning any grass or brush.
- Build campfires on bare soil or exposed rock, and ensure they are sheltered from wind.
- Keep a pail of water and a shovel on hand to control the fire.
- Douse campfires with water and stir the ashes to allow the water to soak in and cool the ashes and the ground.
- Never leave a fire unattended and make sure it’s thoroughly extinguished before leaving the site.
Other fire safety tips:
- Extinguish cigarette butts by dousing them with water or crushing them in mineral soil or on bare rock.
- Never discard a burning cigarette in the bush or from the window of a vehicle.
- Allow portable generators, stoves and lanterns to cool before refuelling. Refuel on bare soil or exposed rock.
- Consult with your fire department for tips on fire proofing your property.
- Remove combustible materials from around the house or cottage.
- If you see smoke in the forest, call your local fire department right way so they can contain it early.
As McKearney says, fires are dangerous. They can cause loss of human life and property and destroy vast areas of woodland and grassland, endangering many forms of wildlife. They can also cost millions of dollars in damage, so it’s important to have the right insurance in place to protect you in case of fire.
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