Eganville – Fines for illegal fires will be issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) during the imposition of fire restricted zones, Bonnechere Valley Fire Chief Darryl Wagner warned, adding the fines can be quite heavy.

“The country is burning from coast to coast,” he said during a committee meeting of council last Tuesday afternoon. “People need to understand this is serious.”

The chief said he also wants to re-examine the fines the township places when there is an illegal fire. People need to be cognizant of the danger of fire and the township does have fines in place, he said. However, he added, the fines need to be looked at again and most likely increased. The current fine is $500 under the township by-law.  While there are provisions in there for some cost recovery, he would like to see it outlined a bit further.  

“I am looking at cost recovery,” he said. “It think that might be a bigger deterrent.”

When he was at Greater Madawaska (GM) the fines were more equivalent with cost recovery and were quite high, he said. There were stipulations for first offence, second offence and third offence and the fine was also up to the discretion of the chief.

“I had one and it was a $24,000 fine and then the MNRF came in too,” he said.

While he does not know if the MNRF decided to lay a fine as well, there is the ability to do so, he cautioned. As well, cost recovery can be quite expensive with a cost of $485 per hour for a truck, he said.

The provincial announcement of the restricted zone was brought in a few weeks ago because of the extreme dry conditions in much of Ontario, including all of Renfrew County.  The chief said the township had already brought in a fire ban but the MNRF action supersedes this.

“We will be in the restricted fire zone for who knows how long,” he said.

He explained when this is in place the township fire department will respond as usual to fires but then they call the MNRF as well.

“We call and a conservation officer takes over and levies the fines,” she said.

The discussion was occurring while the fire at Centennial Lake was still being tackled by township firefighters from Greater Madawaska, fire crews from other areas and the MNRF. As well, smoke from fires in Quebec, Algonquin Park and other areas were also impacting the greater area causing poor air quality conditions through the region.

“I had an inordinate number of people reach out to me about the smoke,” Mayor Jennifer Murphy said. “What we smell today smells like a garbage fire.

“Even prior to the Greater Madawaska fire, we were already seeing smoke from Halifax, Alberta and Quebec,” she said.

She said it was good schoolchildren in the area were kept indoors because of the poor conditions.

“This is very serious,” the mayor said.

Chief Wagner said he had received some information about the fire at Centennial Lake and they were stopping it from moving forward at that point. (By press time the fire had been classified as under control.)

Last Tuesday he said while other fire departments in the area are always available to help out through Mutual Aid, in this case there was no involvement from BV to that point because of the danger of needing firefighters in the local area in case there was a fire, he explained.

“We were asked to possibly cover Mt. St. Patrick and Dacre,” he noted.

No Burning

People need to be very cognisant no burning means no burning. He said it is frustrating to see things like propane fire pits being marketed as not applying under fire bans for open burning. This is not the case, he said. No fire pit of any kind is allowed, although a BBQ can be used for cooking.

Chief Wagner said the region needs a lot of rain to deal with the dry conditions.

“We are going to need at least four days of a good steady rain,” he said.

As the former chief of GM, he said the area has dealt with forest fires in the past because of the nature of the township.

“In Greater Madawaska, forest fires are one of our greatest challenges,” he said. “People want to have a little campfire and they don’t understand the consequences.”

Although fire ban signs are put in place, there are people who will ignore them or claim ignorance, he said.

“There is always a constant struggle,” he said.

Councillor John Epps wondered if people should be reminded to have a “go bag” ready for an emergency in case they need to evacuate in the township because of fire.

Councillor Brent Patrick said he has seen the slogan in other places warning people they should be prepared for 72 hours in case of an emergency.

Chief Wagner said Fire Information Officer Lorna Felske does a great job of sharing the information through social media.

Firefighters Respond to Centennial Lake

Speaking to the Leader on Monday, Chief Wagner said the rain should not make people think the restricted fire zone will be lifted quickly.

“This little rain we are getting is not enough,” he said.

The township had brought in a Level 1 fire ban before the MNRF brought in the restricted fire zone and Chief Wagner said he continues to monitor the situation carefully. There is also the very real danger of forest fire as the situation in Centennial Lake showed, he cautioned. Following the meeting of council, BV did send firefighters to help out with making sure the fire was contained there, he said.

“On Thursday we had a crew of four there and on Sunday a crew of four again,” he said.