Forest Fire Preparedness?

It would be informative to have a professional opinion on the wild fire threat and our preparedness to deal with it. There have been large fires some years back in dry summers and it is predicted that climate change is going to result in even hotter and drier summers.

When we first began to think about coring the lake, we wondered if we would see evidence of historical fires.  A significant fire would perhaps show up as an ash layer in the sediment core, and hopefully would be visible to the naked eye. To this end some inquiries were made to find out more about local fire history.  The following map shows the various fire locations since 1976 that are within 5 km of the Chandos lake shoreline (MNR private communication).  An  unofficial historical fire database held by the MNR indicates that there were fires in the area in 1921, 1923, 1924, 1941 and 1949. In 1923 there were four large fires.

There were no obvious ash layers seen in the cores.  Perhaps if we had measured % inorganics down the core  and performed a 210Pb dating analysis, there might have been some correlation with the fire years  but it is doubtful that the dating precision would be closer than 5 -10 years, given all the variables involved.  (All such analysis is expensive and a lot of work, and in our case offers little real value).
Paleoecologists usually look for charcoal in cores to infer a region’s fire history  over very large time periods  See charcoal in lake sediments.

(As an interesting aside, huge volcanic eruptions spread tephra ( basically ash) in great quantities over a large region. These layers have been highly valuable in dating and correlating past events.  tephrochronology is a technique for carrying out this kind of paleo research.  In our area, one can see a 400 million year old, 2 inch wide, white layer of volcanic ash in a road cut on Highway 7 immediately west of Marmora.)

(see Nick Eyles’ book “Road Rocks Ontario”, p.121.  used with permission)

(As another aside, if one were testing down the core for Cesium (137Cs), a very sharp peak occurred in 1962.  This can usually be seen in northern hemisphere sediments and thus acts as a decent geochronological marker.  The Cesium isotope 137Cs was distributed worldwide through stratospheric nuclear testing in the form of radioactive debris fallout.  In 1963 the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed, after which tests were conducted underground)

Putting all the above asides aside, we were surprised by the number of fires that the region has sustained, as shown on the above map, in a relatively short period ( eg 40 years).   Given the frequency of small fires, and what with global warming and the potential for hot dry spells, for certain there is a big fire in our future.  Adding to the risk is the amount of underbrush that has accumulated since the last major fire swept through here several decades ago.  Thus the following thoughts and comments are presented for wider discussion.

Volunteer MARINE fire brigade?

Perhaps a feasibility study should be carried out to see how better to protect our lakeshore from fire.  There are approx 1200 lakefront properties on Chandos, likely in worth approaching a billion dollars. Could we justify and support a trained volunteer lake emergency response team that can come by boat(s) with pumps and hoses and their own power source to protect any cottages in imminent danger?  The purpose would be to contain fires from spreading rather than (for reasons of personal safety) actually saving a structure already on fireIt would operate during July and August.  Would a municipal levy of about $100/yr per cottage over 1200 cottages  be sufficient to support such an operation, and would it be acceptable to council and residents?  Would it be possible to get some sponsorship from Insurance companies?

At any given time volunteers would have to indicate their availability/unavailability. The fire equipment could possibly reside at each of the 3 marinas.  My immediate thought is to have three PWC’s, one at each marina, for the first responders.  A marine fireboat would be at one marina, or some central location. The PWC’s would be 2-man, speedy, and specially kitted (shovels, buckets, axes, fire extinguishers, first aid, protective gear), and all 3 PWC’s would  be dispatched simultaneously at the sound of an alarm.  This would be followed by the marine fireboat, which is typically built on a landing craft platform with a pumper, hoses, etc. (see here for examples.)

The North Kawartha Fire Chief would have authority and responsibility for this volunteer operation.  There may be other emergencies on the lake as well that such a unit could be the first responder for.

I have no information on the size, cause, exact location, or timing of the fires on the above map, but such an analysis would be informative.  However it would seem prudent that anyone renting out their cottages for the summer should either discourage outdoor burning, or be taking active steps to make sure that the occupants are able to look after a fire properly.  The owner should be aware of any fire bans, and should be able to immediately communicate such bans to their tenants.  Note that a burn permit is required…. these can be obtained online at:  burn permit application

In addition, property owners should make sure that their fire pits are properly located and constructed and that they are in compliance with all relevant by-laws. (fire department assessment/permits along side smoke detector checks?)

The closest fire hall is in Apsley on Hwy 28.  There is a second one at Woodview on Northey’s Bay Road.  The 3rd, on Cty Rd 504 near Glen Alda, is not in service at this time.  Response times to a fire on the lake from Apsley are likely in the order of  30-40 minutes, depending on location, and then getting to a lakeside fire source from the road can sometimes present a formidable challenge.

Douro-Dummer Fire and Rescue, McCracken’s Landing, Stony Lake

Perhaps the CLPOA’s pontoon boat can be kitted out to act as a “first responder” type of craft.