It’s a hot time and sum­mer in the city, but still no fire ban

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN mvan­don­gen@thes­pec.com 905-526-3241 | @Mat­tatthes­pec

Hamil­ton is so far buck­ing a wide­spread mu­nic­i­pal trend of ban­ning out­door fires be­cause of in­creas­ingly dry con­di­tions.

Burling­ton banned all out­door fires ear­lier this week — then upped the ante by nix­ing the use of char­coal bar­be­cues, too. At least 11 St. Catharines res­i­dents face $250 fines for flout­ing a sim­i­lar ban or­dered in that city June 23.

Oakville, Brant County, Nor­folk County, Grimsby, West Lin­coln and ru­ral coun­ties around Guelph and Kitch­ener-Water­loo have all re­stricted out­door burn­ing in some way. Haldimand, by con­trast, has no ban.

De­spite a short, hard burst of rain Wed­nes­day night that dropped 12 mil­lime­tres, those neigh­bour­ing bans re­main in place.

But in Hamil­ton, the fire risk has not quite “crossed the thresh­old” needed to or­der an end to all out­door burn­ing, said chief fire preven­tion of­fi­cer Bob Simp­son.

“The last cou­ple of weeks, we’ve been close,” said Simp­son, adding fire of­fi­cials crunch the “risk fac­tors” al­most daily. “But with the rain (Wed­nes­day night) we think we’ll prob­a­bly be in a safe zone for at least the next three or four days.”

To be clear, city by­laws al­ready for­bid any out­door fires in “ur­ban” Hamil­ton, in­clud­ing the en­tire pre-amal­ga­mated old city. But at least for now, res­i­dents in ru­ral­zoned ar­eas can still buy an out­door burn­ing per­mit for $10.

Dun­das res­i­dent Robert Pin­der doesn’t un­der­stand why.

“We are in one of the dri­est summers on record — a gust of wind could po­ten­tially send an em­ber aloft and ig­nite the tin­der-dry veg­e­ta­tion, roofs or what­ever,” he said.

Pin­der said he re­ported an out­door fire in the Hop­kins Court and York Road area to the city last week­end, but learned it was a sanc­tioned burn. “I just don’t un­der­stand what justification they could have to do it now, un­der these con­di­tions,” he said. “And I don’t un­der­stand why we would let them.”

Simp­son said Hamil­ton re­lies in part on a for­mula cre­ated by the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry to eval­u­ate for­est fire risk. That for­mula takes into con­sid­er­a­tion every­thing from past rain­fall amounts to weather fore­casts to soil mois­ture.

In­ter­est­ingly, the pro­vin­cial fire risk map showed Hamil­ton at a “mod­er­ate” risk level Thurs­day. The Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada fire weather map, by com­par­i­son, showed a “mod­er­ate” risk Thurs­day but an “ex­treme” risk the pre­vi­ous day.

Spe­cific lo­cal fac­tors also mat­ter, Simp­son said, in­clud­ing grass fire statis­tics and the wa­ter level of farm ponds used to fight ru­ral fires. Grass fires are up this year — 13 com­pared to four over the same time last year — but Simp­son said most have been small and han­dled with rel­a­tive ease.

Fire ban or no, Simp­son said pond lev­els are low enough to war­rant send­ing ex­tra tanker trucks to any ru­ral fires that spark up. The last time the fire depart­ment is­sued a drought-re­lated fire ban was in 2012, when the city suf­fered through a se­vere “Level 2” low-wa­ter alert. The Hamil­ton Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity has is­sued a Level 1 alert and urged wa­ter con­ser­va­tion on ru­ral res­i­dents and busi­nesses who de­pend on wells.

SCOTT GARD­NER, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Caleb Lamb­shead of the Hamil­ton Wa­ter­front Trust uses a squeegee to clean up some of the pud­dles left on the Wa­ter­front Out­door Rink from Wed­nes­day night’s rain­fall. Although the rain was wel­come af­ter scorch­ing tem­per­a­tures, only 12 mm of rain ac­tu­ally fell, mean­ing the dry spell con­tin­ues.

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