By Barry Conway
Local Initiative Journalism Reporter
Barry’s Bay — Madawaska Valley Township Fire Chief Cory Quade knows somebody’s playing with fire but that arsonist is also playing with getting a 14-year prison term.
“Since May 10th, 19 brush fires have been set from Siberia Road to Skeads Road, from Rockingham to Upper Dafoe Road, out along Paugh Lake — right across the entire township,” he said. “When the calls come in, they’re often two fires, 20 minutes to half an hour apart, with the second call coming from the opposite end of the township.
“On the 19th of May, for instance, we had five fires in two hours,” Chief Quade said. “On Friday, May 24th, we had three — one in Long Lake, one at Wolfe Lake and one at Skeads Road. All within two hours, the first two within 20 minutes.”
Chief Quade thinks there may even be two arsonists working in tandem, as the time it takes to get from one fire location to the other would seem especially difficult, given the distances involved.
He Chief Quade also notes that whoever is setting these fires is getting more aggressive with each one. Though the incidents all involve brush fires — no buildings nor vehicles have been set ablaze — each new wildfire has been getting bigger and more sophisticated.
“The first one on May 10th was 10 by 10 feet when we put it out; the last one was an acre and a half to two acres before we got there,” he said. “The first one was started with just some sticks pushed together; in the last three weeks accelerants were being used, and in one, I found a six-volt battery with tinfoil.”
At more recent wildfire sites, all requiring increasing water suppression, Chief Quade has found the remains of cigarette lighters and cans of lighter fluid. No fingerprints have been found, but the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office has been called in to investigate. So too has the Ontario Provincial Police.
Nineteen such wildfires have been set in MV Township to date, but during recent weeks similar fires have also been set in other parts of the Renfrew Country including Bonnechere Valley, and one as far away as Douglas.
“Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards had six,” Chief Quade stated. “Bonnechere Valley had two; Brudenell, Lyndoch, Raglan has them.”
Speaking only of the fires in his own jurisdiction, Chief Quade has noticed one curious similarity.
“The weird thing is that they are all set within 150 to 200 feet from somebody’s house,” he said.
The assumption is the arsonist wants somebody to notice the fire before it gets too far gone. “One way or another when we arrive on site, I can look down the road and see a residence.” Essentially, the fire or its smoke gets noticed by those nearby residents or someone walking or driving by sees it and then calls the fire department.”
So far, there has been no real property damage, but the cost of sending out a volunteer fire department 19 times in less than two months can be quite high, at least for the firefighters themselves. Last year, MV volunteers firefighters were called out 52 times, or roughly once a week, but not to even one brush fire. In the past six weeks alone, those same firefighters have been called away from their regular jobs to fight brush fires almost three times a week.
A bigger problem may yet develop with the coming of increasing summer heat and those week-long dry spells that often occur in July and August when even someone playing with fire can miscalculate and end up starting a major forest fire close to residential areas.
“The public can help us out,” the chief said. “If you see something suspicious, let us know. If you see something suspicious, call me at 613-602-0604.”