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Only Trained & Knowledgeable Professionals Can START Forest Fires

Posted: April 26, 2017

Fire: helpful or harmful? 

In some cases, it is indeed harmful, but in the case of prescribed burns, fire is viewed as helpful. On April 18th, 2017 a predetermined portion of High Park was deliberately burned. You might be thinking, “Why would someone go ahead and do that?” High Park is a rich ecosystem composed of many native grasses, plants and trees. Some of the trees that are well established in the park are Black Oak. High Park is home to 23 hectares of fragmented Black Oak Savannah, of which 2,100 hectares remain across the province. A key feature of these savannahs is that they depend on fire to thrive and are historically known as “fire ecosystems.”

Prescribed burns are planned and carried out carefully with no small details missed. Many complex factors come into play when planning the burn such as wind speed and direction, temperature, size of land, smoke management, time of day, notifying the public, crew size, method of ignition and many more.  To plan a burn properly is a very technical job requiring specific skills and knowledge such as fire behaviour, suppression, and environmental effects.

The City of Toronto and Lands and Forests Consulting have worked together every year since 2000 to plan and administer the burn. The two portions of the park that were set ablaze this year were near Grenadier Pond and Allotment Gardens close-by to Howard Park Avenue. The ash created by the fire provides nutrients to the soil which then allows the plants, grasses and trees to thrive and regenerate.

Once the fire boss gives the “OK” to ignite, a mixture of diesel and gasoline from a driptorch is used by a crew member to start the fire followed by another crew member to extinguish any stray flames. The fire grows rapidly with intense smoke building, but within the span of a few minutes the smoke grows less and the heat from the flames cools. By the following hour the flames have subsided and smoke is barely present. The ground is now blackened and the trees are still standing but invasive species, ground cover and small shrubbery have been burned.

The absence of natural fires means that places like High Park now rely on prescribed burning to ensure its ecosystems remain sustainable and healthy. Forestry consultants across Ontario like Lands & Forests Consulting have developed safe and effective practices for administering these burns.

To learn more about the process and purpose of prescribed burning consult the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Prescribed Burn Manual (2014) available online.

Written and photographed by Stephanie Burns, Forest Operations Coordinator at Forests Ontario.