Toronto

High Park carries out 3 controlled burns with help of 'fire boss'

A "fire boss" hired by the city is managing controlled burns in three areas of High Park on Monday.

Fires were part of city's plan to protect Toronto's rare black oak woodlands, savannahs

Toronto hired a 'fire boss' to manage controlled burns in three areas of High Park on Monday. (High Park)

A "fire boss" hired by the city managed controlled burns in three areas of High Park on Monday.

Jason Sickel, who works for Lands and Forests Consulting, a Ontario forest management company, directed crews to light the controlled burns, monitored the fires and ensured the fires were extinguished.

"He is the person who comes up with a fire plan," Ray Vendrig, the city's urban forestry manager, said on Monday.

"He decides when the fires are going to happen. He is the one who manages and monitors the fires and their aftermath." 
The prescribed burns, which are deliberately set and carefully controlled fires, were all part of a plan to protect Toronto's rare black oak woodlands and savannahs. (High Park)

Lands and Forests Consulting said Sickel, who was given the title of fire boss for the city for the day, has nine years of experience as a wildland firefighter with Ontario's ministry of natural resources and forestry.

He is the fire boss for Lands and Forests Consulting prescribed burn crew, according to its website.

The prescribed burns, which were deliberately set and carefully controlled fires, are all part of a plan to protect Toronto's rare black oak woodlands and savannahs. 

According to the city, wildfires occur naturally in savannah ecosystems. 

High Park contains about 23 hectares of fragmented black oak savannah and the area is considered an important part of Toronto's savannah ecosystem.

Fires 'very low' to the ground

As for the fires on Monday, they occurred in areas bordered by roadways and trails in High Park. 

Vendrig said the fires were lit at the perimeter and burn toward the centre. About six-and-a-half hectares were supposed to be burned on Monday.

"Once a fire reaches the centre, it burns itself out," Vendrig said.

Vendrig said there is little risk to the public because the fires are "very low" to the ground and proceed slowly, at a walking pace, under the watchful eye of trained crews.

"It's a very low fire. We're not talking about flames several feet in height," he added.

Fires remove invasive species

Controlled burns, also known as prescribed burns, remove invasive and exotic species, the city said Monday in a news release.

The fires help maintain habitats for birds, butterflies and insects and consume dried leaves, small twigs and grass stems. No larger trees are harmed during the controlled burns.

The burns took place from about 2 p.m. to 5 p.m, and public access to the areas near the burns was restricted. Parking spaces near the areas were limited.

The city said Toronto firefighters and police helped the fire boss carry out his plan.

People with asthma and those highly sensitive to poison ivy were urged to stay inside to limit exposure to smoke and keep their windows closed.

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