Sudbury

Fighting last summer's wildfires cost $212M, but province saying little else

Northern Ontario has seen the first few wildfires of 2019. But it's unlikely this fire season will be as busy or as financially costly as last year, when the firefighting bill topped $200 million.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry refusing to disclose the cost of fighting individual fires

Ontario Fire Rangers work to extinguish forest fire Parry Sound 33 in the Key River area in the summer of 2018. (Christine Rosche/Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Jeff Yurek told the provincial legislature in the midst of last summer's busy fire season that resources were in "good supply" and that crews "received the support they require."

He didn't mention how much that would cost taxpayers.

The next day, he announced an investment of an extra $100 million in forest fire fighting.

In the past, Ontario governments didn't make funding announcements when forest fire crews needed more than the base budget of $70 million. 

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry refused to answer CBC's questions about how that emergency funding is allotted.

But the ministry is saying that forest firefighting was $142 million over budget in 2018, for a total of $212 million.

That's about twice as much as each of the last five years.

Provincial crews fought 1,300 wildfires in 2018, much higher than the 10-year average of 757.

Forest firefighting costs by year:

  • 2018-19: $212 million
  • 2017-18: $118 million
  • 2016-17: $107 million
  • 2015-16: $95 million
  • 2014-15: $78 million
  • 2013-14: $92 million
  • 2012-13: $180 million
  • 2011-12: $209 million 

The last time the wildfire bill topped $200 million was in 2012, when the focus was on a 40,000 hectare fire called Timmins 9.

The province is still suing CP Rail for $38 million to cover the cost of fighting that fire seven years ago. 

The government is also considering filing a lawsuit against the wind farm operator whose construction workers accidentally started the 11,000-hectare Parry Sound 33 fire near Key River last summer.

But when asked by CBC, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry refused to disclose the cost of fighting individual fires. 

There were 1,300 fires recorded across the province, which was significantly higher than the 10-year average of 757 fires.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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