Ontarians can now be fined $25,000 for starting forest fires

TORONTO—It is always important to be careful in the bush, especially with fire. The province of Ontario is tackling this year’s fire season at one of the few sources that can be controlled—humans. The maximum fines for individuals and corporations who start forest fires has been significantly increased. 

If found responsible, individuals can now be fined up to $25,000 for starting a forest fire, with fines for corporations that start a forest fire going up to $500,000. The province hopes that increased maximum fines will help deter human-started fires.

“We all have a role in preventing wildland fires, and with this change we can ensure those who start the fires pay their fair share,” said Kathryn McGarry, minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). “Our government is committed to protecting the people and resources of Ontario, and reducing the risk of human-caused forest fires.”

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Human activity is a significant factor when it comes to igniting forest fires since approximately half of all forest fires are started by people. The province notes that forest fires can cause considerable risk to public safety, can cause expensive property damage and have broader impacts on communities and regional industry. This marks the first upgrade to the fines since 1968.

The increased fines only apply to forest fires inside what the province calls “the fire region.” The Forest Fires Prevention Act only applies to the Fire Region identified in the act. The fire region area excludes southern Ontario except for northern parts of Midhurst, Peterborough and Kemptville districts.

The cost of dealing with forest fires is significant. In a forest fire season that lasts from April 1 to October 31 fire management in Ontario costs on average $130 million per year. The updated fines will bring Ontario in line with other provincial jurisdictions.

In the province’s Northeast Region there were no new fires reported by the afternoon of July 6. The Cochrane 8 fire is currently 70 hectares and is being observed in the far north. Cochrane 5 is the only other active fire in the region; it’s listed at 15 hectares and is being observed.

The fire hazard is moderate to high across the region. 

In the Northwest Region there were five new fires by day’s end on July 5 and two new fires were confirmed by the afternoon of July 6. Lightning is the main cause of these new fires, however, and heavy lightning activity has been recorded in the past several days so more fires are expected to pop up as high temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions fan them into life. Aerial detection patrols are flying over the lightning strike pathways and people are reminded to call 310-FIRE (3473) to report forest fires. Rain is in the forecast but along with this, more thunderstorms and lightning activity is expected.