Fire hazard puts damper on long weekend fireworks

by Stacey Lavallie

MANITOULIN–It’s going to be a sunny and warm long weekend, according to Weather Canada, setting the stage for the perfect first long weekend of the summer season.

That same sunny weather, however, has led to dry fields and forests, prompting the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to issue a high fire warning for the Sudbury and Manitoulin regions. This warning comes with a restricted fire zone from the MNR as well as from many Island communities, which means two May long-weekend traditions, fireworks and campfires, are forbidden.

“It’s a bad weekend for it, but it can’t be helped,” Mike Steele, fire chief for Gore Bay, tells The Expositor. He says that while the fire season in the Gore Bay area has been slow so far this season, the area is very dry.

The fire restriction covers Northeastern Ontario north of the French River Provincial Park, east to the Quebec border and west to the western boundary of the Lake Superior Provincial Park. The restriction started May 16.

“The fire hazard is high to extreme,” a press release from the MNR states. “The outlook for the next several days calls for continued drying.”

Municipal bylaws on open-air burning can restrict the setting off of fireworks without a permit or completely, depending on the town. Fireworks are always banned in Little Current, for example, but not the rest of the Northeast Town.

“When in doubt, check with your township,” Darren Bailey, fire chief for Northeast Town, says. He was unable to comment on the MNR fire ban prior to press deadline but advised The Expositor the town had a fire restriction in place before the MNR ban, which means the use of fireworks throughout Northeast Town this long weekend is forbidden.

“Campfires may be allowed at some organized campgrounds or parks that use approved fire pits and meet certain other criteria,” the MNR press release further states. It advises interested persons to speak with the owners or operators before starting a fire.

“People can still use portable gas stoves for cooking and warmth, but the public is asked to exercise extreme caution,” the press release explains. Conservation officers will be out this long weekend to enforce the restriction.

“Starting or tending a campfire in a restricted fire zone can lead up to a fine of up to $1,000,” Lindsay Marks, an MNR spokesperson, explains. “The restriction does not, per se, restrict the use of fireworks. However, a town may have a fire ban in place so you have to check.”

Ms. Marks also warns, “if you do use fireworks in a restricted fire zone and a fire starts from those fireworks, you can be held responsible for the cost of suppression and damages.”

There have been 233 forest fires thus far this season, the press release reveals, with 24 currently burning. The fires have caused 4,170 hectares of burned forest, with another 3,737 currently on fire. To put that into perspective, a hectare is roughly the size of a football field.

Roughly 700 people have been evacuated in the past week due to fire threats near Timmins and Kirkland Lake, Ms. Marks says. “Some were just for a day, but 125 people were displaced for an entire week.”

“If there is a fire people should phone 911,” Fire Chief Steele notes. “The address as well as the type of fire–a house fire or a brush fire–is very important information.” He said that if a passing motorist notices a fire, the nearest address can help get the right fire services dispatched quickly.

“Just the highway number and the nearest address from the side of the road will work,” he notes.

People witnessing a forest fire can also contact the MNR through its toll-free forest fire reporting number, 310-FIRE (3473). Again, the address and type of fire is important for the ministry to dispatch the right type of services to the area.