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