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Warm, dry spring brings bushfires to Bristol, Pontiac

by Guillaume Laflamme
Pontiac
Apr. 8, 2024
Firefighters in the municipalities of Bristol and Pontiac responded to a seasonally high number of bushfires in the last week of March and first few days of April, attributable to the unusually warm and dry conditions the region experienced in what has been a relatively early spring.
Mario Allen, director general for the Municipality of Pontiac, said the fire department responded to 10 bushfires over the course of that period, including a fairly large fire that broke out on Cain Line, just off Lac-des-Loups Road.
“We were lucky to have the help of Bristol and La Pêche,” Allen said. “That way we were able to protect the big forest right beside it. Without them we could have ended up losing many acres of forest.”
Allen said firefighters from the three municipalities worked mid-afternoon until 11 p.m. on Apr. 2 to put out the fire that was, at its largest, 4-5 acres large.
Allen said there were also several smaller grass and bush fires that had to be put out in his municipality, many over the Easter long weekend when people cleaning up their yards and burning leaves and old branches lost control of the burn.
“It was quite a few years that we didn’t have so many as we’ve had in the last two weeks,” Allen said, attributing the unusually early fire season to prime conditions created by a lack of precipitation combined with a surplus of dead, dry vegetation covering the ground.
“We were about to send out an advertisement saying no burning but the snow came on Thursday and that solved a lot of the problem.”
Alex Mahon, who has been a firefighter for Bristol for five years and is currently completing his officer course, said the warm spring has forced a running start.
“The first week was pretty full. But last weekend, it was bad for us,” Mahon told THE EQUITY, following the Easter long-weekend, noting the department responded to three bush fires, two in Bristol on Mar. 31, and the big one on Cain Line the following Tuesday.
As a result, the Bristol Fire Department has stopped giving out burn permits and has enacted a burn ban for the municipality due to the dry weather. The department is discouraging people from burning things outside until the conditions improve.
Mahon said the snow last week made a small difference, but did not bring enough moisture for the department to cancel the ban.
“If you look outside now, you never would have even known it snowed,” Mahon said.
“We’re still being very cautious until the grass starts getting greener and the conditions become less dangerous.”
Season’s forecast
Mélanie Morin, information officer for SOPFEU, Quebec’s wildifre prevention agency, explained that the season has been off to an early start with 13 fires in the Outaouais region over the last three weeks that have burnt 6.6 hectares collectively.
“So far there’s been less snow in southern Quebec than there has been in usual years.” Morin said. “So we are ready and expecting […] a more early start to the season.”
Although the weather is dryer than usual, Morin said that the severity of the wildfire season is a challenge, and the most important part is being prepared for any situation.
“Other than a few days out, we can’t see how the season is going to be like. Our main mission is to be ready for no matter the type of season that we get,” Morin explained. “Kind of like every other emergency service, you have to be ready to face all. And then if it’s quiet, all the better. And if it’s not, then we’re there to respond.”
Morin reminded people planning to have outdoor fires to check the fire danger rating, to check in with local municipalities on the requirements for fire permits, and remain cautious with fire use.

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