Ontario forest fire season has 'normal start' covered in snow
Last year by this time, Northern Ontario had experienced 16 forest fires
The forest fire season officially starts Monday in Northern Ontario, even though snow remains in much of the region.
Still, work is already being done at the Fire Management Headquarters in Thunder Bay to get equipment like pumps ready for the fire lines.
Fire crew leaders, like Dean Johnson, are also back to begin annual training.
Johnson said it's not as rushed as last year, when the dry spring led to several fires before the end of March.
In northwest Ontario last year, there were 14 fires between January and the end of March. In the northeast, there were four. There have been none in either part of the province this year.
"Last year it was obviously a little more different, they called us in two weeks or more in advance just for the fire prep, but this time, we'll be able to do it in a non-rushed way," said Johnson, who has been working for the Ministry of Natural Resources' firefighting program for 14 years.
Typically, crew leaders get recalled at end of March and the first week of April to do mandatory training. The rest of the firefighters are at work by the end of April or beginning of May. Last year, people were recalled earlier because of dry conditions and early fires.
"Winter obviously plays a part in how soon we're going to be jumping into the actual fire season. We're considering this kind of a normal start," Johnson said.
This year, the Ministry of Natural Resources said there's still a lot of snow in the bush and that more could fall.
"It'll certainly be a much quieter start than what we had last year, it was much warmer, we were snow-free at this time last year," said fire information officer Lindsay Munroe. "It's going to give our crews more time to get their training completed."
In Dryden, fire information officer Debbie MacLean said there's still a lot of snow in the bush there, too.
"In 2012, we had to bring in firefighters early. We had to be responding with aerial attack earlier," she said. "This year we don't."
Munroe said while it may be a slow start to the season, it's too early to predict what the fire hazard will be come summer.
"As we switch over to spring preparations and move into mandatory training, it's not too bad now, and it's kind of nice," she said. "It gives everybody time to get settled and get going without - boom - all of a sudden we're into numerous fire starts in a day."