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THE NEW “F” WORDS IN THE THIRD… FIONA, FIRE, FAHRENHEIT, AND FIRESMART

Given Nova Scotia – and the entire country – is experiencing its worst wildfire session in our history and looking around at the debris in our forests since Fiona touched down last September, The Third thought we should spend some time with the individual in charge of such matters for the municipality, Bruce MacDonald, CBRM’s Manager of Emergency Management.

MacDonald told The Third that Fiona will be a concern for those of us in The Third for about two more years. That’s because it takes approximately three years for dead wood to rot to the point that it can absorb enough moisture to no longer be considered a highrisk potential for wildfires. He explained that the areas that were most impacted by Fiona are along the coast. Shortly after Fiona, CBRM and the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Renewables used drones to determine the areas where there is a lot of deadwood as a result of Fiona’s wrath.

That drone survey provided the municipality with the information needed to have targeted community meetings where the ‘hurricane’ made landfall. This gave MacDonald and his team the opportunity to introduce the FireSmart Program. While Fiona’s damage may have encouraged community members to come out and take a more active role in emergency management, for MacDonald, fire prevention is always on his mind. “Fire prevention has been identified by the fire department as an area of concern and we have put extensive work into trying to articulate the problem [to citizens], find ways to help mitigate the problem [with citizens], and provide additional supports to our firefighters should there be a wildfire and for what we expect to happen.” Fiona simply provided the opportunity to educate citizens and introduce a national fire prevention program.

The FireSmart program is a community risk reduction program that provides relevant information for people who live in areas close to forests or wooded areas like we do in the Third. Part of that education is getting the message out that there are many ways to protect our properties from fires, including wildfires. Given that 97 percent of forest fires are caused by human behaviour, it seems we might have a lot of learning to do. MacDonald makes it clear that it is our behaviour that will most likely determine whether we have future fires and how damaging they will be. While lightning is sometimes a culprit in other areas of Canada, we are the damaging force in the Third. That means that since Fiona our firefighters have had two big concerns: Fiona deadwood and our historical actions. “The concern from Fiona isn’t that it increases the likelihood of fire but the severity of damage if a fire started.”

MacDonald explained that other than the deadwood on residential properties, Fiona’s felled wood will remain until it rots away. Because of the location, topography, and extensive damage, it is not feasible to clear or remove it. That means that with the temperatures lately, Fiona may be lurking ready to make a fiery comeback. But this time, it will be up to us to make sure we don’t enrage her.

Photo by REUTERS

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