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Dangerously dry conditions vary across county; some fire bans imposed

Municipal fire danger ratings range from 'moderate' in Orillia to 'high' in Barrie and Bradford, while Ramara sits at 'extreme'
2018-07-10 Jeff Weber BFS RB
Barrie Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Weber says the city doesn't have a fire ban, but he expects people to still burn using common sense given the dry conditions. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

Dry conditions across Simcoe County vary from place to place, leading some municipalities to impose burning bans while others are keeping a very close eye on the forecast.

This isn’t the first dry summer Barrie Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Weber has seen.

“There has been drier times,” he said. “I don’t think we’re at an extreme level at this point yet, certainly not in the city of Barrie.

“Yes, we are trending in that direction, toward a drier season,” Weber added. “Of course, the more hot days we get, the more we’re going to end up in that place a lot faster.”

Weber said there is rain forecasted for Friday and Monday.

“We do tend to keep an eye on our forecast through these months when there’s a potential or a possibility (for more dangerous conditions),” he said. “You can just look at the cornfields in different areas to see how much the corn is starting to curl and dry up.

“I don’t know if it’s a true indicator, but I’m going by one right now and the corn is actually quite healthy,” Weber said with a chuckle. “But I also know closer to Barrie there are spots that are pretty dry.”

Many municipalities, including Barrie, Collingwood and Bradford West Gwillimbury, require a permit to burn in your yard using a solid fuel-burning appliance.

The fire danger rating ranges across the county, including the Orillia at ‘moderate’, meaning burn with caution, while Barrie and Bradford West Gwillimbury have their rating at ‘high’, stipulating only fires for cooking.

“Municipalities are changing weekly, depending on how much rain they are receiving,” Weber said. “One of the things that has created a disparity in the fire danger ratings is the amount of rain each municipality has received over the last week.”

While one place may receive a welcomed downpour, other places have had nary a drop and remain bone dry.

At the ‘high’ level, ‘more forest fuels will ignite easily and spread rapidly, (so) control would be difficult’.

With that also comes a little common sense.

“We have a bylaw in place for solid fuel-burning appliances, with the expectation that people are following the bylaw,” Weber said. “They should be burning safely and smaller than some open burns would be in other places.”

In Orillia, there is a an open-air burning bylaw that outlines when and where you can burn on your property.

In Ramara Township, where a massive fire ate up 225 acres of land on the weekend, a total fire ban is in place. 

The fire danger rating in Ramara is ‘extreme’, meaning ‘forest fuels are dry and explosive. Sparks will ignite fuels easily and spread would be rapid; virtually impossible to control.’

Ramara Township Fire Chief Dave McCarthy said there seems to be no end in sight.

“The conditions are very bad and continue to worsen daily,” he said. “I have seen this in years past, but typically later in the season.”

A weekend fire in Ramara, located outside Orillia, illustrates exactly how dry the conditions are and how fast a blaze can spread.

The call came in around 11 p.m., Friday, from a passerby who spotted a grass fire covering approximately 40 acres, McCarthy said.

Firefighters responded from all of the township’s stations and with all of its trucks.

“But with the high winds, the fire grew and travelled fast,” said McCarthy, who called in additional support from Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry water bombers.

McCarthy said there were fire crews from Kawartha Lakes, Rama and Brock Township battling the blaze. In addition to Ramara firefighters, between 50 and 60 firefighters were on scene at its height.

“We gained control that evening around (7 p.m., Saturday) with approximately 225 acres burned,” McCarthy said.

“These type of fires, though, are very difficult to totally extinguish and we continue to work this site daily and will likely be on the scene until a significant rain,” added McCarthy, who called it “a huge burden for on a small community.”

McCarthy said no definitive cause has been determined, but a lightning strike is suspected due to the remote area where it occurred.


Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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