Fire season a burning issue

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It’s that time of year again. After a long, cold winter we are enjoying a hot summer here in the north. Although we welcome this sunny, dry and balmy weather here in the north, in cities this heat is deadly.

I was shocked to learn that dozens of people died recently of heat-related causes in Montreal and across Quebec. All those who passed on were reportedly people with pre-existing health problems. But I find it hard to believe that that we do cannot offer sufficient care and concern for the elderly and people with health issues who suffer during a heatwave. It seems like we have enough money to spend interfering in foreign wars but we can’t provide great health care, superior public transportation, safe roads or proper housing for those who need it.

Dry, hot weather also leads to forest fires. Recently, there was a major fire just off Highway 11 in Temagami, Ontario, just down the road from me. This is a cause for personal concern but the Ministry of Natural Resources and local firefighters are capable of great things when dealing with these threatening situations. It is one thing to learn about a fire like this in the media, but being close to one is terrifying. I have witnessed a couple of large forest fires over the years and they are powerful and destructive. A forest fire can come up very quickly and often is started by lightning storms or by people who are careless with their campfires.

These enormous fires are like big bombs when they get going. The heat can ignite trees and buildings from a distance. They also move very quickly. A large fire is impossible to outrun when driven by strong winds. Miles of forest are destroyed as well as homes and cottages. The fire also kills animals and birds while wiping out their habitat.

Here in the north we have a long history of dealing with devastating forest fires. We have all kinds of ways to prevent and fight them – including water bombers, state-of-the-art equipment and trained firefighters. Still, global warming is playing a role, making for hotter conditions around the world.

My ancestors saw these fires in a different way. They understood that they were a necessary part of life. When old growth forests are burned then new life springs up. But the fires were respected for the danger they posed. Elders were always leery of their young people around campfires. Our parents constantly warned us about playing with fire and leaving campfires unattended. They had witnessed forest fires helplessly on their own in the wilderness. In our northern community of Attawapiskat, electrical storms were greatly feared. Lightning caused most forest fires and before modern protections, many of the house fires that destroyed our oldest buildings.

These days, there are so many things that contribute to forest fires. We need to be careful when camping on the land and lighting fires. I see so many people who start camp fires without checking to see if there are any alerts or warnings. When a forest is dry it takes very little for a fire to start. There are things we can do to prevent fires and they include: checking to see what the fire hazard is at, dousing fires with lots of water and sand before you leave it, build a fire in a contained space like a pit or outside fireplace and avoiding fires on a windy day. At the very least we can do that.

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