County fire ban lifted 0
Haliburton County has received enough rain to satisfy the four municipal fire chiefs, resulting in an end to the countywide fire ban.
The ban was initially called on July 9 and officially called off on Aug. 10, making it one of the longest fire bans experienced in the county’s history.
The decision to end the ban was made by the fire chiefs through phone calls and email, said Minden Hills fire chief Doug Schell.
“We feel with the rain we have gotten the danger is less now,” said Schell.
The week’s forecast was calling for more rain, which added to the decision to end the ban.
“It makes our lives way easier, we field about 25 calls a day when it’s on,” said Dysart deputy fire chief Don Stephenson.
The ban meant no fires of any kind were permitted outdoors. As well, fireworks and cooking fires weren’t allowed.
The restrictions meant an increase in questions and phone calls for each fire chief, who understands people just want to enjoy their vacation at the cottage.
“Who wants to have to say no to somebody? It’s always easier to say yes,” said Stephenson.
The deputy fire chief said he found the bulk of the municipality followed the rules of the ban, however, there is always someone who doesn’t comply.
“Somebody always says oh I didn’t know … you really wonder, it was posted everywhere,” he said. “If the signs are up, the ban is on.”
However some residents still chose to ignore the warnings.
“If they only understood why and not that we want to do it. I don’t like going out from nine at night until one in the morning on weekends because people are burning, but that’s what I did for the past three to four weekends,” said Schell.
Schell has been with the department as a volunteer since 1989, taking over as chief in 2003.
He has never seen a ban last this long.
Normal fire regulations still apply and some areas are still quite dry, meaning caution should be used when burning, Dysart et al fire chief Miles Maughan stated in a press release.
Maughan thanked the public for their co-operation during the past month in keeping Haliburton safe.
“The department understands this has been difficult,” Stephenson told the paper. “Please understand that part of the fire department’s mandate is to minimize the risk of fire and a total ban was the only option.”
There were five fires in Dysart during the course of the ban, however none was the direct result of disobedience, rather a factor of the dry conditions, said Stephenson.
“I can’t say that we had a campfire get away on us,” said the deputy chief.
While the majority of Minden Hills was co-operative in adhering to the ban, Schell said there were still some who tried the department’s patience.
During the month-long ban there were no major fire incidents in Minden Hills, but the department was kept active.
Algonquin Highlands fire chief John Hogg says in his experience, municipalities avoid having bans that are not countywide, as it gets confusing for residents.
The drought conditions made for an unusually long ban, said Hogg.
“Even though there is significant rain now and it’s hopefully soaking in, it was very, very dry … it wouldn’t take much to have us back up into extreme levels,” he said.
While pressure from the public to lift the ban existed, the conditions prevented that from happening, said Hogg.
“It just takes a lot of rain to get down that far.”
While the summer drought meant substantial dryness throughout the area, the fire chiefs remain optimistic there won’t be a need for another ban in the near future.
“I really hope not but if we do get another two dry weeks we could be looking at another fire ban,” said Schell.
Highlands East fire chief Bill Wingrove has been keeping his eye on the long-term forecast, for fear the ban might have to be re-imposed in the future.
Wingrove was happy with the way residents in Highlands East adhered to the ban.
“They self-policed almost the whole municipality, everybody who called 911 was concerned that somebody else had a fire,” he said.
The department was kept busy, as the number of calls doubled during the month of July, however, incidents remained low.
“We had some fires from lightning but that had nothing to do with the ban,” said Wingrove.
While there were no major fires in Algonquin Highlands during the ban, residents asked a lot of questions about it, which Hogg believes is a good sign.
“There were some innocent situations where people didn’t realize there was a ban … I was relatively pleased … I think people did really well,” he said, adding there were about 70 signs advertising the ban posted throughout the municipality.
The dry weather was a phenomenon experienced not just in the county but throughout the province, as neighbouring counties and regions were also issuing fire bans.
During the morning of Aug. 10 all four chiefs were busy removing the signs advertising the ban, with the signs in Dysart removed by 9 a.m., according to Stephenson.
“It’s important to get the signs down just as quick as you get them up,” he said.
All four departments stressed that while the ban had been lifted no daytime burning was permitted throughout the county, as is stipulated in bylaws in all four municipalities.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s a ban or not, there’s no daytime burning from April 1 to Oct. 31 without a burn permit,” said Schell.
Those who choose to risk it and light up during daylight hours could be facing serious fines, upwards of $25,000, according to Schell.
“I could just charge them $350 plus my time, or I could take them to court and it could be up to $25,000,” said Schell.
Aside from the financial factor, more important is the risk factor, with fires capable of getting out of hand very quickly.
On Aug. 9 fire restrictions had been lifted at Algonquin Park by the Ministry of Natural Resources. The park was under a restricted fire zone since July 18 due to extreme hazard conditions, according to a press release from the MNR.
On Aug. 10 Minden Hills was sitting at a high fire danger level, while Dysart was sitting at extreme.
One factor remains unanimous in that everyone is thrilled the ban has been lifted.
“I really do appreciate how important campfires and bonfires are to cottagers and everybody and are part of the camping experience. I really did hate to have to curtail it but it was just too dangerous to allow them, so we’re anxious to be able to allow people to enjoy being up here,” said Hogg.
Burning regulations in effect until Oct. 31:
1. No burning between two (2) hours after sunrise and two (2) hours before sunset
2. Fires must be attended at all time.
3. Person in charge must be competent.
4. Must have adequate equipment to extinguish fire.
5. Person is responsible for any damage.
6. Fire must be away from combustible material by at least three (3) metres.