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Slow start to fire season in Northwest

Heavy snow pack, precipitation drove steep decline in fire activity so far this year; recruitment challenges mean fewer fire crews will be stationed in Northwestern Ontario.
forest fire stock

Plenty of rain and a heavy snowpack made for a slow start to Northwestern Ontario’s forest fire season, but there’s no guarantee it will stay that way into the summer, says the province’s forest fire-fighting agency.

Ontario’s Aviation, Forest Fires and Emergency Services (AFFES) is also reporting recruitment challenges in the Northwest as it begins the 2022 fire season.

The Northwest’s first forest fire of the season was recorded by AFFES in the Dryden region on May 1.

Since then, AFFES has tracked just 11 fires in the Northwest so far, compared to around 109 at the same time last year, said fire information officer Chris Marchand.

By this point in 2021, there had already been some more extreme fires that forced the evacuation of the Willard Lake area.

“That’s kind of been the story of the season thus far,” said Marchand. “We’ve had this larger than normal snow pack and fairly consistent spring precipitation that has not only played a role in slowing down fire activity, but, as we’re seeing across the region, really given rise to flooding concerns in a lot of areas.”

The heavy snow pack doesn’t necessarily reduce fire risk heading into summer, however, Marchand noted.

“Things could turn around very quickly in the space of a week,” he said. “If we don’t get consistent precipitation, that will drive fire hazard conditions… We’re never more than a few days away from a very different situation.”

As of Tuesday, fires had burned a total of 5.2 hectares in the Northwest Region, compared to a whopping 2,357 hectares in the Northeast Region, which has faced a busy start to its fire season.

Nineteen fire ranger crews from the Northwest were deployed last week to help fight fires in the Sudbury and Timmins areas.

The region may need the favour returned if it faces a busy summer for fires.

There will be fewer ranger crews than normal stationed in the Northwest due to recruitment challenges, Marchand said, with AFFES extending its hiring deadline by two weeks in response.

“Much like other sectors that have found it a challenge to staff all of their positions, we’re no exception in the field of emergency services this year,” he said.

The province can redeploy fire rangers from elsewhere in Ontario or call on other provinces or countries for support if necessary, Marchand added.

“Much like the situation in the northeast right now, should we experience an escalation in fire activity, we do have a certain amount of flexibility to move resources into the Northwest if required.”

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