6 key questions about fire bans

forest-fire-burning-smoke-woods Photo by yelantsevv/Shutterstock

We’re midway through Canada’s April-to-October forest fire season. And that means plenty of fire bans are in place. So, how much do you really know about them? Here’s a quick Q&A.

What prompts a ban?

When an area’s fire hazard or danger rating reaches “high” or “extreme,” usually after a stretch of hot, dry weather, provincial or local officials may decide a ban is the best strategy to protect forested areas, public and private property, and people. Provincial organizations such as Alberta Wildfire also look at the long-term weather forecasts and the resources that are available for fighting fires, explains Matt Bell, the organization’s Wildfire Information Officer. If there are already a lot of wildfires, it means existing resources may be tapped. A ban “mitigates any further risk of other wildfires occurring,” says Bell.

Where do the fire ratings come from?

They’re based on daily evaluations of various environmental risk factors — monitored by the provincial and federal governments — that increase the likelihood of fire. These include wind speed and direction, humidity, recent rainfall, temperature, plus considerations such as the amount of moisture in organic material on the ground, and the expected rate of fire spread.

But what does this mean for my lake or municipality?

Sometimes — though it’s rare — a ban will be province-wide. More often, individual regions or municipalities use their discretion as to what they do with the fire risk data. They can decide which fire rating to apply, and what to ban or allow. The information “is really just a guideline for us,” says Mike Peake, the Fire Prevention Officer for Ontario’s Bracebridge Fire Department.

What’s a total, complete, or full ban?

This really depends on your location — though in most areas it only comes into effect in the case of an “extreme” fire danger rating, and it prohibits, at the very least, “anything that’s fired by wood, is on the ground, and can’t be turned off,” says Peake. So, a tabletop firepit fuelled by propane is almost always still okay, but a campfire is not. Tiki torches, outdoor candles, turkey fryers, barbecues that use charcoal briquettes, or even fireworks might be prohibited in some regions—especially heavily forested areas or provincial parks—but still allowed elsewhere. (Fireworks? Allowed? Sometimes, yes. Even under a ban.)

What reverses a ban?

A lower fire danger rating, often thanks to a few days of rain. But a rainy forecast is not a guarantee. “Storms can work against us,” says Peake. Stormy weather means lightning — which is itself a cause of forest fires. And keep in mind that “it’s possible for one municipality to lift a ban and have another municipality close by keep it on,” says Bell. “It would depend on the specific municipality and their requirements for making ban adjustments.” So always check with your municipality or local fire authority.

What happens if I violate a ban?

Please just don’t. You could be fined hundreds or even thousands of dollars, jailed, or worse: you could start a forest fire.

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