Highest fire risk in at least 20 years forces province to slash forestry hours
Harvesting and other activities will stop between noon and 8 p.m., minister says
With the forest fire hazard in New Brunswick higher than it's been in at least 20 years, the province ordered a daily eight-hour halt to certain forestry operations starting at noon Thursday.
Rick Doucet, the minister of energy and resource development, described the conditions as extremely alarming and said his order is not common practice.
Municipalities are responsible for regulating burning within their borders, but the City of Moncton has decided to follow the provincial order.
Fredericton said it is removing fire pits from Odell Park until conditions approve.
"This order is very rare," he said at a news conference in Fredericton. "I believe it's been 20 years that this type of activity has been exercised but under the current conditions we really need to take proactive measures here."
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Harvesting, forwarding, site preparation and pre-commercial thinning will not be allowed from noon until 8 p.m. for forest operations that involve two or more people or use mechanical equipment.
Operations such as road construction and roadside chipping will continue as normal.
Doucet said he doesn't know how long the restrictions will be necessary, but he doesn't expect forestry work to stop entirely. Operations are still allowed before noon and after 8 p.m., he said.
His department would be checking forests three or four times a day to make sure it can respond quickly if further restrictions are necessary, he said.
Doucet said penalties for companies that violate the ban would be extreme but didn't elaborate.
The province was already closed to burning, including fire pits and backyard fireplaces.
The forests are being monitored by ground crews and from the air, and water bombers are ready to help fight a potential fire.
"We're asking everyone, every single New Brunswicker, every single person who enters our forest to use extreme vigilance," Doucet said.
This year, 98 wildfires have burned 124 hectares of forest. This time last year, 241 wildfires had burned 224 hectares.
"The safety of New Brunswickers is our priority," said Doucet.
Doucet said the department consulted with industry players and the reaction has been positive.
"One of the things we're really pleased with is some of them have already initiated some voluntary measures within the woods."
He said the concern now is with the feed stock, or the supply of materials to the mills.
A dozen fires
Doucet said the province is monitoring a dozen places where forest fires are either burning but contained or have recently been put out.
"But all it takes is one," he said.
Roger Collet, forest ranger, said most wildfires happen in the spring.
"We had a very wet spring, the majority of our fires happen in spring, so our spring fire season was really wet," he said. "So basically, this time of year we're pretty close to normal."