Nova Scotia

Cape Breton firefighters battle almost 100 blazes in one day

All 33 fire departments in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality have been out fighting grass fires for the past two days, putting a strain on firefighters and resources.

Spike in grass fires is creating challenges allocating firefighters and equipment

A Cape Breton firefighter works to put out a grass fire in this 2013 photo. Firefighters in the regional municipality battled a whopping 98 fires on Tuesday.

Firefighters in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality are facing what could be their busiest grass fire season in recent memory. All 33 paid and volunteer fire departments were out fighting fires this week.

The hectic season began on Monday with 50 fires, then 98 more on Tuesday.

'One of the worst'

"To do almost in excess of 150 calls in 2 days is crazy" said deputy fire chief Chris March, who is hoping it rains soon. 

"The sooner we can get this grass wet and greener, the less the season will be, but if it keeps up like this, I'm predicting probably one of the worst seasons we've had in recent memory because it is so dry."

March said the extreme number of calls made allocating resources a challenge. At one point on Monday, every firefighter and piece of equipment in Glace Bay was tied up with grass fires, when another call came in for a structure fire. 

March said that's when their mutual aid agreements with other departments came into play. "So if Glace Bay is called to a more serious incident they would call on partnerships, other departments in the area, to handle the grass fire and then they would proceed to the more serious call."

"The job will get done but it is very taxing on our volunteers," he said.

No benefit to burning grass

Volunteer firefighters are asked to leave their jobs to go to these fires. March said it hurts their employers and makes it more difficult to keep and recruit volunteers. 

The timing of the fires, during lunch time and late afternoon, points to school children as the culprits, but some are set by adults who mistakenly think it will improve their properties, March said.

"There is a rumour that burning grass this year will make it grow back healthier and greener next year, which is completely false."

The entire province is under brush burning and campfire restrictions, meaning they are only allowed between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. the following day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith was born and raised in Cape Breton. She began her career in private radio in Sydney and has been with CBC as a reporter, early morning news editor and sometimes host since 1990.

with files from Mainstreet Cape Breton

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