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Forest fire research shows aging northern Ontario forests could put communities at risk

A new study shows that putting out forest fires close to cities and towns might be putting them more at risk of forest fires in the long run.

Many forest fires are extinguished quickly before they get a chance to spread

Smoke lingers over the community of Alban in this 2018 file photo. New research suggests that leaving many old and highly flammable forests could put cities and towns in greater danger of forest fires in the years ahead. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

A new study shows that putting out forest fires close to cities and towns might be putting them more at risk in the long run.

Researchers from Natural Resources Canada found that much of the Boreal forest near communities is old and highly flammable — and that could put people and properties in danger of fast-spreading wildfires in the future.

Sault Ste. Marie-based researcher Sandy Erni, and one of the study's authors, says Ontario firefighters have been evaluating each forest fire for the last decade. They have been letting some burn longer to clear out aging trees.

"The forest needs fire," she says.

"The issue is when the fire goes close to the communities, we need to save human life and properties. So, we need a good balance."

Erni says Ontario is a leader in new thinking on fighting forest fires. And the reality that many old forests near communities have been saved from fires is not news to firefighters, Erni added.

"They have known about that for years. First Nation  communities too. They have known that for centuries. But right now it's just more proven and we can put numbers on this issue."

More than 500 forest fires have been reported in Ontario so far this year.

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