SANDFIELD—The fire chief for the municipality of Central Manitoulin warned members of the Lake Manitou Area Association (LMAA) last week that Manitoulin is way past due for a major fire on the Island.
“I joined the Campbell Fire Department 35 years ago,” Fire Chief John Reid told members of the LMAA at their information/education night held July 23 at the Sandfield School House. “At the first meeting I attended with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, their representatives spoke about the fact that Manitoulin Island was due for a 25-year burning off of the duff that built up after the last major fire on the Island. There is a massive fuel load that builds up-rejuvenates (over time in the forest and at the bottom of trees after a burn off).”
“They told us 25 years ago that we were overdue to have a major fire on the Island,” said Mr. Reid. “So far we have dodged the bullet, but eventually it is going to come.”
“It could be due a lightning strike, for example,” Mr. Reid told the meeting. “We had a fire start a few years ago in Spring Bay due to a lightning strike that with assistance we were able to put out, and another that started in Providence Bay when someone threw a cigarette out that started out as a grass fire and we had to have assistance from other fire departments to put out.”
“Eventually there is going to be a major fire on Manitoulin,” stated Mr. Reid, “and we won’t be able to stop it ourselves or hold it. And if it really gets a hold on the Island it is going to do some major damage. It is just a matter of when.”
Mr. Reid pointed out the Central Manitoulin fire department has eight fire fighting units at its disposal and has been purchasing equipment over the past few years, keeping in mind the change of a major blaze taking place on the Island.
“We have a sprinkler system kit in place that can protect an area of between 500-600 feet in front of where firefighters are fighting a blaze,” said Mr. Reid. “And over the years I’ve been working with the municipality, encouraging them to purchase this type of equipment as I’ve been thinking in that direction of the Island facing a major fire.”
He acknowledged, “this current council and past councils have been very good in providing the funds to purchase this type of equipment. We have a beautiful new fire hall, some of the best fleet around, and equipment and vehicles that are modern.”
Mr. Reid was asked if the municipality is involved in the mutual aid on the Island with other fire departments. “We can call in whatever and whoever we need to put out a fire. We had an incident at the Pentecostal Camp property four years ago where a fire was going down fence posts and heading across a field; we (Central Manitoulin) were there and I called the Gore Bay-Gordon/Barrie Island township joint fire department to help put the fire out.”
“If something major takes place, yes we can call on our neighbouring fire department partners to respond as well,” said Mr. Reid.
Mr. Reid explained that years ago there was a fire in M’Chigeeng at the property where Taylor’s Sawmill exists. When he arrived on the scene of the blaze, in only a matter of three minutes he realized the immensity of the fire and told his wife to call the MNRF and get the ministry water bombers on the scene of the blaze. Fortunately, the MNRF arrived with several water bombers and they helped douse the fire.
“I’ll pull in and call in any resources that we need to put out a fire,” Mr. Reid told the meeting, noting there are times that the MNRF is not available with the water bombers.
Mr. Reid was asked about burn permits and how Island residents can get them. “You can get them at your municipal office,” he told the meeting, pointing out that campfires are supposed to take place in the evening, not during the day.
When an area like Manitoulin Island is under a severe fire warning like it was in the summer of 2018. “All the Island municipalities were under a fire ban, understandably. The bans went on for much of the summer, and I know this is frustrating to people not to be able to get a burning permit, but you need to consider what could happen. We still got calls from trailer parks every day, asking if the ban had been cancelled, and I would tell them no.”
“So as you were telling us earlier, it is expected that Manitoulin is due for a major fire in the future?” asked one person at the meeting.
“The fuel is certainly there,” stated Mr. Reid. “Look at the number of spruce trees that have died. If we have a major fire and it really gets going throughout the Island it would hard to get it stopped.”
As for what people can do to help prevent a fire Mr. Reid recommended, “keep areas near your house and cottage clear and back from buildings or forest.” He reminded the meeting that Manitoulin has been actually due for a major fire, for the past 60 years now.