/Thinking about wildfires

Thinking about wildfires

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

You can smell hints of summer in the air and the promise of sunny, worry-free times.

A worrisome thing is present, however, but for now it’s something requiring our close attention so we won’t have to start worrying.

We are into the fire season and there are indications it could be a bad one.

Haliburton fire chiefs, citing an extreme fire risk, issued a total fire ban for Haliburton County last week. All burn permits are cancelled.

The ban covers any open flame that cannot be turned off by a valve or switch. That includes fireworks and charcoal barbecues. 

Fire seasons and fire bans are nothing new. There are indications, however, that devastating wildfires are more frequent and becoming a serious worldwide concern. Folks in Alberta and parts of B.C. and Saskatchewan can attest to that this spring.

Already this spring there have been more than 1,400 wildfires in Canada. That’s well above the 10-year annual average of 1,061 fires for this time of year. 

A United Nations report concluded recently that the risk of deadly blazes will surge in coming years as the result of climate change. Produced by more than 50 researchers on six continents, the report estimates the global risk of devastating fires will increase by more than 50 per cent over the coming decades.

“The heating of the planet is turning landscapes into tinderboxes,” said the report, which forecast that we are heading for a “global wildfire crisis.”

The good news is that people are becoming more aware and concerned about the increasing threats of wildfires. A recent survey of 1,500 Canadians found that 46 per cent worry about damage caused by wildfires.

Increased awareness will help make us all think more deeply about what we can do individually to help prevent fires.

The National Forestry Database indicates that 8,000 wildfires occur every year in Canada, roughly one-half of them caused by lightning.  There is little we can do to prevent that but we can do much to prevent the 50 per cent caused by humans.

Most of us know better than to leave a fire unattended. However, how diligent are we in extinguishing fires we have set for cooking, warmth or burning debris? Do we take the time to drown fires, then stir the ashes to ensure they are cold?

Also, how many of us think about the possibility of our vehicles starting a wildfire? Catalytic converter surfaces under a vehicle can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit under certain conditions, so driving or parking over dry grass should be avoided.

ATV exhaust systems also get hot enough to ignite tinder dry grass, leaves and brush.  Grass can build up around the exhaust pipe and engine. It may heat up, fall to the ground and ignite a fire.

ATVs have a small mesh screen inside the muffler to stop sparks from shooting out onto the ground. Some people remove these spark arresters to gain more horsepower, and that definitely is not a good idea.

It is a good idea to carry a fire extinguisher in your vehicle, whether it be car, truck or ATV.

We all need to be more diligent about brush, especially after a winter of ice storms that left us with an unusual amount of downed trees and fallen branches. Dry brush is miracle food for wildfires and we need to be diligent about clearing it away.

Governments and service companies like Ontario Hydro and Bell need to be more rigorous in ensuring dry brush is cleared away. I get nervous driving along Highway 35 and seeing piles of cut brush left to dry under power lines. 

Our world is becoming warmer, drier and windier – all factors that increase wildfire risks. When risks increase so must thinking and planning on how to reduce them.

One of the most important ways of reducing wildfire risks is to strictly observe fire bans. People who think their small, attended campfire is not a risk are not thinking clearly.

We live surrounded by trees and other vegetation that becomes explosive when dried by sun, wind and lack of rain. There is no such thing as being too cautious when wildfire risks start mounting like they are now.