Ready to go
P.E.I. has adequate personnel, equipment for fighting forest fires, official says
Prince Edward Island would never find itself in a situation similar to British Columbia where there are currently more than 100 active forest fires, says Ken Mayhew, information officer with P.E.I.’s Forest Division.
“In B.C., it’s just going to be forests for the next 300 miles,” he said, pointing out an obvious difference in geography.
If a fire were to occur in P.E.I., Mayhew said, natural breaks, like rivers, fields and roads, would keep it from spreading far.
“I think we would be quite able to handle it,” he said.
The province has between 35 and 40 trained forest firefighters. About a dozen of them are currently helping with fire suppression in B.C. Mayhew insists the assistance being offered to the western province does not create a shortage here.
Costs are covered by the province seeking the assistance. In addition, the skills and experience the firefighters gain will benefit Prince Edward Island’s firefighting capabilities, he said.
Municipal and rural fire departments are also available to help, Mayhew said.
In extreme situations, they could call in mutual aid from other provinces or air support. The last time air support was needed, he said, was 10 to 12 years ago for a fire in eastern P.E.I. A fire attack helicopter was sent over from Nova Scotia.
The province’s forest firefighting equipment includes trucks strategically distributed to five fire departments across P.E.I.
Two trucks and two off-road muskeg mobile, or tracked mini-tank, vehicles, stationed in Charlottetown are available Islandwide.
Despite the Island’s small size, Mayhew acknowledges there are still some large tracts of forests, such as around Portage and near Souris.
Sharon Labchuk built her house in a small clearing in Millvale, in central Queens County 24 years ago and says the threat of a forest fire, especially at times of year when conditions are very dry, is a worry.
Increased penetration into woodland by all-terrain vehicles only heightens her concern. “Given that these guys are out breaking the law and travelling on roads that they’re not allowed to be on, I kind of think other behaviours might go along with that, like carelessness with cigarette butts.”
She suggested heat from mufflers might even be enough to start a fire when conditions are dry, and she feels the province is not putting enough money or personnel into prevention.
Offering her own comparison to the forest fire situation in B.C., Labchuk said the forests might be smaller, but the Island’s population density might mean more homes would be at risk if a fire got out of control.
“It’s a big concern,” she said.
The population density is also a positive feature, Mayhew said, suggesting a fire would no more than get started before someone would notice.
He says the forest fire threat is typically higher in P.E.I. in May and June and added burning permits are deemed invalid when the fire weather index is high.
On Monday it was listed as high in twothirds of the province and very high in the central/southwestern region.