By: The Working Forest Staff
Toronto — Ontario’s 2020 wildland fire season officially ends tomorrow, closing a season well below Ontario’s 10-year average in total number of fires and total affected area, but one which posed a new level of risk due to the COVID-19 outbreak for firefighters and communities threatened by fire. To address this, the government put additional safety measures in place at the start of this year’s wildland fire season to strengthen our preparedness for emergencies.
“This season has truly been like no other and our fire rangers have been on the front lines, facing unprecedented challenges with professionalism, dedication, and courage,” said John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. “I’m proud of the way we rose to the challenge and adapted our strategies to protect the health and safety of people and communities.”
The government increased annual base funding for emergency forest firefighting by $30.2 million. The severity of the fire season can fluctuate greatly each year, and this increase will help Ontario manage this annual variability by supporting fire response activities further into the season before additional funding is required. This increase also helped the government implement safety measures to protect fire rangers from COVID-19.
The province’s approach to fire management this year placed an even stronger focus on early detection, combatting detected fires with full force in order to keep them small, and implementing a Restricted Fire Zone across Ontario’s legislated fire region from April 3 to May 16 to reduce the risk of preventable human-caused fires and focus efforts on where they were needed the most.
This year also brought additional challenges when fires near Eabametoong First Nation and the Town of Red Lake resulted in community evacuations.
“Conducting evacuations amid the COVID-19 outbreak amounted to managing an emergency within an emergency,” said Minister Yakabuski. “Thanks to heroic work by all involved, both of these fires are now out and residents have been able to return to their communities.”
Ontario is an internationally recognized leader in wildland fire management. The province relies on over 1,300 fire rangers and support staff, as well as dozens of pilots and engineers, to coordinate the protection of 90 million hectares of Crown land in Ontario.
For more information on wildfires, please visit www.ontario.ca/forestfires.