New Brunswick

Streak of hot weather and dry forests force closure of Crown land

New Brunswick’s forests are so dry, the province has closed all Crown land to industrial operations and recreational activities, with the exception of provincial parks.

Government of New Brunswick and J.D. Irving Ltd. on high alert as 2020 fire damage exceeds annual average

A view from a J.D. Irving Ltd. spotter plane flying over Cains River fires in York County last month. (J.D. Irving Ltd./Submitted)

New Brunswick forests are so dry, the province has closed all Crown land to industrial operations and recreational activities, with the exception of provincial parks.

"Our forests are tinder dry and right now even the smallest spark could ignite a major wildfire that could threaten people's homes and destroy wildlife habitat," said Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland. 

"Even the heat coming off the bottom of a vehicle while you're driving through the woods could ignite a blade of grass," he said.

More than 80 per cent of the province is forested and forestry product exports were valued at close to $2 billion in 2018. 

Already, 2020 has been hard on New Brunswick's most valued natural resource:

  • To date, New Brunswick has reported 263 fires. The 10-year average is around 158 fires a year. 
  • So far, more than 1,100 hectares have burned. The annual average is 197 hectares. 

Government and private sector sky patrols have been flying over the province searching for any sign of smoke. 

4 p.m. considered peak fire time 

"At about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, we go out every day," said Roger Collett, a wildfire prevention officer with the Department of Natural Resources. "Sometimes we do two patrols."

Late afternoon is considered the time of highest risk, as the heat of the day and the lack of humidity conspire to make the forests most vulnerable. 

A water bomber drops water on a forest fire in the area of Mount Scio Road in St. John's in 2019. New Brunswick has borrowed a CL-145 water bomber from Newfoundland and Larador. (Ted DIllon/CBC)

"Our peak burn point of the day, when fires burn best, is about 4 o'clock in the afternoon," said Collett. 

To supplement the government's six aircraft and 100 forest rangers, the province has borrowed a CL-415 water bomber from Newfoundland and Labrador. It's parked on standby in Miramichi. 

The plane is built to scoop up as much as 6,000 litres of water when a pilot skims the surface of a lake or a river.

The water can then be mixed with chemical fire retardant and dumped where it's needed. 

Holland said procuring the plane was like making sure there's a fire extinguisher in the house before the fire actually ignites. 

Foresters dealing with serious conditions 

J.D. Irving Ltd. is also on guard with its fleet of 30 fire trucks, four smaller water bombers, two helicopters and spotter planes. 

"I'm a forester for 12 years now, and I've never seen [these] kinds of conditions,"  André Landry said after a recent helicopter flight.

"And I've been talking to many guys with over 40 years in the forests, and they've never seen [this]. So that means the situation is very serious and we need to be ready to respond."

JDI  has also been working with a fabrication company in Balmoral to design new firefighting equipment to be deployed on the ground. 

André Landry, a forestry graduate from the University of Moncton, has never seen a fire season quite like this. (J.D. Irving Ltd./Submitted)

A.L.P.A. Equipment Ltd., has modified a logging vehicle known as a forwarder that runs on track like an army tank. The company can fit it with a rack to carry a 9,000-litre polypropylene tank over any kind of terrain. 

"It can be used during or after a fire," said company vice-president Serge Landry.

"And for sure when there's a big fire, when most of it is down, they can run that machine to make sure the fire doesn't start again."

A.L.P.A. Equipment Ltd. has modified a logging vehicle to help fight fires. (AL.P.A. Equipment Ltd and A Landry Fabrication/Submitted)

"With a fire truck and a hose, you can't drive into the forest. With that machine, you can drive wherever you want. It's meant to be off-road."

Landry said it's a proactive project, aimed at responding to changing environmental conditions.

"The weather's changing," he said. "Irving just ordered more."

About the Author

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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