The 2017 forest fire season began with some human-caused blazes that needed aggressive ground and air attack to contain.
Lightning-caused fires followed in the summer in both remote and urban locations.
Lightning-caused blazes dominated the fire scene through late July, August, and September while the southern districts also responded to fires that threatened to disrupt people and properties.
The Northwest Region recorded 654 fires in all, consuming 63,017 hectares.
Provincially, we recorded 776 fires with 111,955 ha burned, compared to last season which saw 641 fires and 83,010 ha burned.
The 10-year average is 791 fires and 104,318 ha burned.
The 2017 statistics are not considered complete until all wildfire reports are finalized and the data is checked and verified.
The data includes fires reported throughout the year, not just during the official fire season of April 1-Oct. 31.
It does not include prescribed burns or fires occurring outside of the fire region.
This season, 207 of the 776 fires were caused by people, with about 84.2 ha of land burned as a result.
There were 543 lightning-caused fires, charring 104,275 ha.
Throughout the fire season, there were a 26 fires, burning about 7,596 ha, for which the cause of fire was not determined.
This can occur when there's not enough evidence to support the determination of a fire cause.
Year-to-year expenses can vary considerably depending on the number of fires and their severity in a season, and can range from $75 million-$231 million or more for a busy fire season.
While the final costs for the Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) program for 2017 are still to be finalized, initial estimates as of Oct. 31 indicated the fire program has spent roughly $118,228.5 million on firefighting activities within the province.
This includes money directly related to fire suppression (i.e., crews, aircraft) while the balance is budgeted through the year as our preparedness expenses.
The province expects to recover $1,981.4 million in costs from sending Ontario FireRangers, aircraft, and equipment to assist other provinces and the U.S.
Three fires in Nipigon District impacted the communities of Eabametoong, Neskantaga, and Nibinamik.
Nipigon Fire #9 (13,553.3 ha), Nipigon Fire #29 (6,753.2 ha), and Nipigon Fire #39 (265.2 ha) received modified responses, including various forms of suppression activities to limit their expansion and protect structures in the area.
All three of these fires were called “out” in late September.
Nipigon Fire #99 was a lightning-caused fire that started on Aug. 12 northeast of Nipigon in the Kama Hill area that grew to 562 hectares.
An incident management team was established on the fire, working out of Nipigon, and managed the fire until Aug. 31.
That fire was called “out” on Sept. 19.
There also was a complex of fires near the communities of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug and Wapekeka, which were ignited by a dry lightning storm that occurred on Aug. 11.
Sioux Lookout Fires #108-113 were actioned by crews, under the supervision of an on-site incident management team, until they were contained and posed no further threat to the communities.
Meanwhile, Red Lake Fire #66 occurred within the community of Sandy Lake.
It directly threatened bulk fuel storage and residential values within the community, but they were not damaged as a result of aggressive initial attack using a Belly Tanker helicopter, air tankers from both Ontario and Manitoba, and MNRF Type 1 FireRanger crews.
During the second week of July, British Columbia declared a state of emergency as a result of a high number of forest fires within its boundaries.
Ontario provided both equipment and human resources to help our western counterparts.
A warm, dry weather system, combined with frequent lightning events, triggered several new starts in Ontario's northwest in late July and throughout August.
This required us to scale back deployment of staff to other provinces and to dedicate resources here at home at the time.
In late August, when the forest fire situation eased here, the provincial resource deployments increased to help B.C.
In total, 1,040 AFFES staff members were deployed out-of-province (some of these individuals went away more than once).
Of these, 997 people went to B.C., eight were sent out-of-province to assist the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, 21 were deployed to Manitoba, and 14 people travelled to Alberta to assist Parks Canada.
Ontario also deployed four CL-415 waterbombers and two birddog aircrafts, as well as pilots and air attack officers, to assist Montana in the U.S.
A CL-415 tanker and birddog also were sent to assist Manitoba.
As well, firefighting equipment was sent out-of-province to assist firefighting agencies in B.C. and Manitoba.
In total this season, 10,000 lengths of hose, 203 pumps, and two mobile values protection trailers were sent to B.C. while 100 sprinkler kits were sent to Manitoba.
The AFFES promotes the use of fire through prescribed burning by co-ordinating planning and burning activities to ensure all burns are conducted safely and effectively.
This includes approving prescribed burn plans on Crown lands and conducting burns.
Fire-dependent ecosystems are maintained in Ontario by the use of prescribed burning.
The AFFES supports Sustainable Forest License holders, Ontario Parks, and other interested parties to use prescribed burning.
In 2017, there were 32 prescribed burns planned, of which eight took place burning 484 ha.
The range of objectives for these burns included oak savannah and tallgrass prairie restoration/maintenance, invasive species control, habitat maintenance, hazard reduction, and forest ecological renewal.
Additional benefits through staff training and organizational capacity-building also resulted from the planning and execution of the prescribed burns in the province this year.
The AFFES continues to maintain and improve its facilities and infrastructure. Projects completed in early 2017 resulted in grand-openings in North Bay and Thunder Bay.
It now plans to move forward with construction projects in Dryden.
Ontario also continues to provide key information on Twitter (@ONForestFires), improving our ability to communicate about forest fire management.
Check us out.