Two amphibious Twin Otter aircraft from the Ministry of Natural Resources base in Dryden, along with a helicopter for transporting fire crews, are on high alert at Fort Frances Airport as the fire hazard continues to creep up across the district.
Three more waterbombers are on alert in Kenora and Dryden should things heat up.
“We’re looking at a high fire hazard for Thunder Bay [and] west to the Manitoba border, particularly in populated areas,” Mitch Miller, fire information officer for the West Fire Region, said yesterday.
He said the ministry is keeping its eyes peeled on what is termed the “urban interface”—between populated areas and the bush—because the greatest hazard right now are human-caused fires.
“We don’t expect forest fires going in the middle of nowhere—it’s people burning brush piles and grass fires,” Miller noted.
“Because the hazard is rising, we pre-position our resources,” Bob Dakin, sector response officer with the MNR here, said yesterday.
But despite the high fire hazard, no fire restrictions or bans have been implemented anywhere except in the blowdown area of Quetico Provincial Park, where 10,000 hectares (ha) of forest were toppled in last summer’s devastating wind storm.
“We’re just asking area residents to be very, very careful with the fires they may have,” Dakin stressed. “The grasses are really dry with the lack of rain and will burn very easily.”
Dakin said the MNR fire response centre here gets area weather station reports twice daily that help determine where the fire hazard will sit.
“It’s a numbers thing,” he remarked. “We use a number of indices that record rainfall, relative humidity, wind speed, and temperature [and] the combination of these readings—along with some very complicated mathematical formulas I might add—determine how fire will spread in various fuels.
“These readings give us the moisture content of fine fuels, condition of the duff [organic] layer, and the larger fuels [and] how deep a fire will burn,” he added.
So far this year, four grass fires have been reported in the Fort Frances area, including ones near Grassy Portage, Northwest Bay First Nation, and Sapawe.
The biggest blaze, which occurred in March (prior to the official start of the fire season, burned 60 ha along a river bank southwest of North Branch.
Dakin said it’s suspected the latter was a “hold over” fire from a campfire lit during the winter. The fire was confined to the flood plain area along the river and did not endanger any values.