Firefighters’ union says Ford government is failing the province

Jun 9, 2023 | News

Ontario is witnessing an alarming surge in wildfires this year, with a total of 187 blazes reported across the province as of June 9.

This number is more than twice the total number of the 79 wildfires seen in 2022.

The unprecedented number has also surpassed the 10-year average of 169 wildfires, raising concerns about the rising threat to the region’s forests, wildlife, and communities.

Mississauga Fire Deputy Chief Rob Grimwood, who is also president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC), said this year saw an awful start when it comes to forest fires.

“They’re very unpredictable and we never know how bad a forest fire season is going to be,” Grimwood said.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), in a statement to Humber News, said there are longstanding short-staffing issues within the Ministry’s Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES).

Kim Johnston, OPSEU communications supervisor said the residents of Ontario are “in real danger” due to a cut in the number of crews.

“Fewer crews mean less capacity to respond to multiple fires on the ground. These crews can’t be split up,” she said.

The 2019 Ontario budget cut emergency forest firefighting to $69.8 million from $212 million.

Grimwood said forest fires are usually caused by weather conditions like lightning, human activities like campfires and fireworks, and climate conditions like hotter temperatures.

He said firefighters are “working long hours in adverse and dangerous conditions doing intense work.

“I don’t think the general population appreciates the human toll it takes on our firefighters in these conditions,” he said.

Johnston said the Ford government “is failing our fire services and Ontario’s northern communities.”

“The entire forest fire fighting system depends on a whole range of skilled workers on ground crews, air crews and in logistics. But, this system has been breaking down for years,” she said.

According to provincial stats, two new fires, Chapleau 9 and Sault Ste Marie 7, were confirmed in the Northeast Ontario sector on June 8.

Cochrane 6 and Cochrane 7, in the northeast sector which has 34 confirmed wildfires, are the biggest in the province, affecting an area of more than 8,000 hectares.

Sudbury 17 was reported to be 5,277 hectares and not under control as of Friday afternoon.

In Northwestern Ontario, Sioux Lookout 7 located north of the remote First Nation of Cat Lake is the biggest, affecting an area of more than 9,000 hectares.

Northwest Ontario has 24 active confirmed fires.

Jess Kaknevicius, CEO of Forests Ontario, said it is important to manage landscapes to prevent forest fires.

“Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of forest fires, as drier and hotter conditions make larger fires more likely,” Kaknevicius said.

She said we need to engage the next generation in understanding career opportunities to help with fire suppression and forest management in the future.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 8, there are 424 active fires in the country. Canada has recorded 2,402 wildfires to date.

The Societe De Protection Des Forets reports Quebec is the most affected province with 125 active fires. The province has seen 444 wildfires so far in 2023.

Alberta has 72 active wildfires, according to statistics from the province, out of the 616 fires it has seen this year.