The Ministry of Natural Resources’ Aviation and Forest Fire Management last week reported the 2008 forest fire season was the slowest on record in Ontario for the past 50 years both for the number of fires and hectares burned.
There were 329 fires in Ontario during the forest fire reporting season from April 1 to Oct. 31, charring just 1,313 ha.
The West Fire Region had 218 fires and 1,215 ha burned while the East Fire Region had 111 fires that blackened just over 98 hectares.
Regardless of the 2008 fire season being a wet one, from year-to-year both the weather and receptivity of forest fuels to ignition and fire spread can change quickly and result in conditions which are highly-conducive to fire starts.
AFFM continues to maintain preparedness levels, including forest firefighting staff in place, aircraft positioned, and base support services and supplies/equipment ready to address the risk of such a change.
During the fire season, firefighters and waterbombers remained on alert in areas of greatest risk of fire.
On average, fire management spends $119 million per year. Every year is different as a result of variability in fire occurrence and fire behaviour.
Fire operating expenditures have ranged from $65 million to $175 million annually over the past 10 years.
The 2008 fire operational spending was roughly $85 million.
Preparations continue for the 2009 forest fire season with equipment repair and aircraft maintenance, as well as staff training and upgrading.
Although it may not have been busy in Ontario, some FireRanger crews were sent to a couple of the western provinces to assist with their situation.
The 2008 fire season also marked some significant events, including confirmation there are massive areas of forests damaged by past weather events and insect infestations that will pose a fire management challenge in coming years.
Here in the West Fire Region particularly, the beneficial aspect of fire in ecosystem renewal was a dominant feature in fires this season. The quiet season allowed numerous opportunities for the fire program to venture into its ecological mandate of the beneficial use of fire in the forest ecology.
There were several instances were fires were monitored on islands and in provincial parks to fulfill their ecological benefits.
This summer also provided an excellent opportunity for FireRanger crews from both regions to maintain many excellent skills. Crew safety and training audits were held, and values protection exercises were conducted with crews involved in the strategic set-up and operation of sprinklers systems.
FireRangers and Air Operations were involved with advanced training in all areas, including fire investigation, mutual aid with municipal and rural volunteer fire departments, fire assessment, air attack simulation, and hover exits, to name a few.
When FireRangers weren’t busy fighting fires or honing their skills, they spent time assisting with flood relief and storm clean-up, as well as helping Ontario Parks with various tasks.
AFFM prides itself on the advancement of a first-class program where fire staff visit cottage associations, and attend outdoor and trade shows, to provide education on how to be “FireSmart.”
In both regions, there has been a great deal of advancement in replacing the aging capital infrastructure. In Sioux Lookout District, for instance, the opening of the Pickle Lake staff quarters was celebrated, along with the completion of a new warehouse and the start of a new forest fire management facility in Hearst.
The fire program also has launched several “green” initiatives in 2008 in order to continue to reduce its impact on the environment.
Planning is ongoing in preparation for future challenges to the fire program, including climate change adaptation, changes in forest fuels related to insect and weather damage, and dealing with escalated fire conditions.