‘Almost 50 per cent’ of New Brunswick forest fires start on days when burning was allowed

Click to play video: '‘Firewatch’ program underway in New Brunswick as temperatures rise'
‘Firewatch’ program underway in New Brunswick as temperatures rise
WATCH: With warmer weather here and a long weekend ahead, a bonfire is likely in the plans for many New Brunswickers. Back of mind for some: is the risk of those fires raging out of control. As Travis Fortnum reports, the "firewatch" program is already underway – May 16, 2022

Officials say that while it’s near impossible to forecast what New Brunswick’s summer months will hold in terms of wildfires, the danger is always present.

The province lifted burn restrictions across the board Monday following a wet weekend, but according to Wildfire Prevention Officer Roger Collet, the “green” status doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all.

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“Last year almost 50 per cent of the fires we had to go to were on days when burning was allowed,” Collet said.

According to the province’s “Forest Fire Watch” webpage, crews responded to 80 fires through the 2021 season, well below the running 10-year average of 137 a year.

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Collet said wet weather kept that number low.

So far for 2022, there have been 124 fires logged, burning up 119.6 hectares of forest.

According to Collet these figures account for any outdoor fire crews are called to respond to.

“A lot of them are very small,” he said.

“Might be somebody burning some brush and it just got away from them and was extinguished quickly.”

He said that’s not uncommon.

Almost all forest fires, he says, are caused by humans – whether carelessly, accidentally or intentionally.

“Well over 90 per cent of our fires are in that category,” Collet said.

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“The only fires we get from Mother Nature are lightning strikes.”

Experts say that statistic is undeniable, but so is the fact that as many fires are extinguished by humans.

“We’re really good at putting fires out,” said Dr. Anthony Taylor, an assistant professor in the Forest Management program at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

Taylor points out the rapid advancement of fire suppression technology through the past century.

On average, Taylor says 0.04-0.25 per cent of the Maritimes’ forests are burned each year. The majority of that is in northern New Brunswick.

He adds that the impacted area would be much larger if humans — and their firefighting tech — weren’t around.

“If it was just lighting that caused fires and they were allowed to burn, the rates would likely be higher,” Taylor said.

He adds that the warmer and dryer conditions ushered in by climate change mean that fraction of a per cent could rise to a full 1 per cent of the region’s forests burnt each year by 2072.

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To do your part to keep forest fires to a minimum, Collet says to be smart and vigilant when burning — and thorough when putting your fire out.

“If you can’t touch it with your hands because of the heat, it’s not out.”

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