Debris from Fiona fuels concerns about wildfires

Mike Montigny, of the Department of Environment's Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division, says this type of debris could pose a fire hazard under the right conditions.  (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC - photo credit)

Mike Montigny, of the Department of Environment’s Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division, says this type of debris could pose a fire hazard under the right conditions. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC – photo credit)

Prince Edward Island’s statutory fire season begins March 15, and forest officials are concerned debris from post-tropical storm Fiona has created conditions that could fuel more wildfires.

The storm toppled many trees as it swept across the island in September.

While many of the larger trees have been cleared, there are still many that have been damaged and many branches and smaller pieces of wood that are piling up.

This is what Mike Montigny calls fuel loading. He is Field Service Director for the Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division of the Department of the Environment.

“The fuel load is something we haven’t seen in many years,” Montigny said.

Shane Hennessey/CBC

Shane Hennessey/CBC

He said while there are other factors that play a role in how a fire starts, including relative humidity and precipitation, fuel is something they’re concerned about.

“The fine combustibles are the things that would help start a fire. The larger fuels would fuel that fire further and make it burn hotter. And once that fire begins to climb into the treetops, it will be beyond what we can handle.”

Montigny said they have trained personnel and special equipment to help fight the fire. They also work closely with the volunteer fire brigades.

There are some areas that certainly have all the right ingredients to make things tricky. – Mike Montigny

The department also has access to firefighting resources across Canada, although this is rare.

“It’s probably been 15 or 20 years since we brought helicopters in from Nova Scotia,” Montigny said.

“We’re exporting personnel to other provinces and we’re seeing a decrease in fires here, but we’re able to maintain our skills by using those skills across the country,” he said.

Preparations for the fire season

Montigny said the department ensures people are ready and available 24/7 during fire season.

It will also promote an awareness and prevention campaign.

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC

“We will be working with the volunteer fire departments, local communities and the fire department office to help landowners and homeowners ensure they have the tools and skills to keep their own homes safe and reduce that fire burden around their homes “, he said.

Montigny said the department uses a Fire Smart program and online resources are available. People can also call if they have questions.

“If a landowner can take some responsibility and do some of these simple analyzes themselves, we can help them facilitate and compile the work,” he said.

“Because if there’s a wildfire in and around your home, and you can take some of these preventive measures beforehand, the likelihood that you’ll lose your structure — home, barn, church, community hall — will be greatly reduced.”

watch the weather

Montigny said if there’s a lot of rain from May to September, fuel pollution might not be a big issue. But he would also like to see more snow and rain now.

As for the huge piles of wood waste being collected, Montigny said there are some areas like southern Kings County, along the North Shore and Bonshaw that they are keeping a close eye on.

“There are some areas that certainly have the right ingredients to make things difficult and we’re aware of that… We’re going to focus on those and prioritize those,” he said.

“If a forest fire does break out, we want to make sure that people are safe. That’s the most important.”


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