Officials in New Brunswick brace for another ‘horrific’ wildfire season

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New Brunswick officials brace for busy wildfire season
Wildfire season has begun, and New Brunswick officials are bracing for a repeat of the devastating season it saw last year. Nathalie Sturgeon reports – Apr 16, 2024

The 2024 wildfire season is underway in New Brunswick.

Last year, the average number of hectares that burned in a season doubled to 857 from 450.

“We know that we had a horrific year last year for wildfires across the country. We’re expecting that this year will probably be very similar, and in fact subsequent years going forward are going to be the same way,” said Mike Holland, Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister, while speaking to reporters on Tuesday.

More than 18.5 million hectares burned in Canada last year, one of the most devastating years for forest fires.

In Stein Lake, an area near St. Andrews, 500 hectares burned. The fire threatened more than 200 hundred homes and burned one to the ground. Officials said the sheer unpredictability of the season and the drier conditions spanning New Brunswick’s vast forest, create the perfect recipe for devastation.

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“It’s a stark reality that demands our attention and action,” said Roger Collet, a wildfire prevention officer with Natural Resources and Energy Development.

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“The devastation caused last year was unprecedented. During wildfire season, it only takes one bad day for the situation to escalate out of control.”

The fire near St. Andrew’s was caused by an all-terrain vehicle that caught fire.

Of the 209 fires ignited last year, 202 were human-caused, with the remaining seven sparked by lighting.

But Holland said it is unlikely officials would prevent people from fully partaking in outdoor activity, adding there is criteria for those types of bans based on drier than normal conditions.

“Use care and control,” Holland said. “We’re certainly not going to come down hard hammer because we trust that New Brunswickers will use care and caution.”

There are about 150 firefighters on staff with the department. Collet said last year the department had six aircraft on contract, but since eight were involved in the Stein Lake fire, the department went with eight aircraft on contract this year.

Over the winter, New Brunswick experienced several strong storms that blew hundreds of trees on to the forest floor. Collet said the department plans to take a look at areas most damaged this winter to determine what the level concern might be.

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“The biggest risk is probably not going to be this year,” he said. “It’s probably going to be in a year or two when things dry up. Right now, they are still fairly green and some of them are still rooted in the ground so they are not necessarily all dead trees, so this year is probably not the worst but still a hazard.”

Fire prevention tips and burning conditions are available online or by calling the department.

“The most impactful things people can do to protect their homes and communities from wildfires are the least expensive,” Collet said.

“Move things like firewood piles and storage sheds at least 10 metres away from your home. Planting fire-resistant plants and shrubs and regularly cleaning up fallen branches, dead leaves, dry grass and needles from the grounds around the home and the home’s roof and gutters can reduce the risk of ignition from a wildfire.”

Wildfire prevention officers also encourage people to continue enjoying the outdoors while being vigilant when using things like backyard firepits and motorized vehicles and while engaging in activities like hunting, fishing and camping.

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