Forest fire fighters in northeastern Ontario taking precautions against COVID-19

The forest fire season is underway, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is facing challenges doing its job during a pandemic.

Non-critical staff will work remotely

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says with 55 active fires, the northeast is well below its 10-year average for this time of year. (Name withheld by request)

The forest fire season is underway, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is facing challenges doing its job during a pandemic.

Along with the normal health and safety considerations for the 800 fire rangers in Ontario, they are now following public health measures to protect against COVID-19.

Shayne McCool, an MNRF fire information officer in the northeast, said there are measures like proper hand-washing and physical distancing from other staff, adding that a distance of two meters apart is easier to do when they are outdoors putting out fires. 

"Certainly we've implemented the recommendations from the chief medical officer of health, things such as a physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and ensuring that staff who feel sick don't enter the workplace," McCool said.

They've also taken additional measures, making sure any staff who are able to work remotely can do that, unless critical work is required, McCool said. 

He said out in the field, firefighters are also taking precautions.

"When we're out fighting forest fires we're out in the open air and in large areas, so in those circumstances the social distancing would be a priority for our staff," McCool said. 

"They certainly have the ability to stay within that distance from each other, out in forested areas."

And although different fire fighting teams often work alongside others, McCool said they're instructing staff to make sure proper protocols are followed.

"When we do see a situation where we have escalated fire activity, those fire management spaces will share resources in those situations," McCool said. 

"But all those considerations we mentioned earlier will still be in play for social distancing and to minimize contact among staff."

Current forest fire situation in northeastern Ontario

McCool said that the province has recorded 108 forest fires in Ontario this year. 

"Here in the northeast we've seen 55 fires," McCool said. "Now if you compare that to what we saw at this time last year provincially we had 79 fires."

"But our 10 year average for this time of year is 216 fires. So you could see we're well under our 10 year average for this time of year."


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