Ready to go

P.E.I. has ad­e­quate per­son­nel, equip­ment for fight­ing for­est fires, of­fi­cial says

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - THE ISLAND - BY ERIC MCCARTHY eric.mccarthy@jour­nal­pi­oneer.com

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.

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