The Restricted Fire Zone (RFZ) designation put in place on April 3 for Ontario’s entire legislated fire region will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. on May 16, according to an announcement from the Ontario government.
The province will continue to watch forest fire hazard conditions and an RFZ designation could be reinstated in higher risk areas if conditions deteriorate, according to the announcement. Under the designation, residents that live in an area with an RFZ cannot have an outdoor fire, including burning grass, burning debris or having campfires, even when using an outdoor fire grate, fireplace or fire pit. The government’s restrictions aim to reduce the number of preventable human-caused fires and lower the risk of wildfires affecting the public.
“This is an extraordinary period,” said John Yakabuski, minister of natural resources and forestry, in the announcement. “As we put measures in place to protect our staff and the public from the pandemic, we have been taking additional steps to prepare for the wildland fire season. Nothing is more important than protecting the safety of people and communities across the province.”
Yakabuski said that the government wants people to enjoy themselves, but “lifting the Restricted Fire Zone designation does not mean we can let our guard down” when it comes to preventing fires. The province has a more aggressive approach to fighting wildland fires in place this season, according to the announcement, focusing on detecting fires early and combating them with full force to keep them as small as possible.
The provincial government has increased base funding for emergency forest firefighting by $30.2 million and fire rangers will be required to follow the health and safety guidelines recommended by the chief medical officer of health to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The guidelines include physical distancing, frequent hand washing and daily self-assessments by staff.
“Despite the challenges of these unprecedented times, Ontario’s emergency management personnel have been proactively working with partners to prepare for potential evacuations due to the wildland fire season,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in the announcement. “Public safety remains our top priority and our Provincial Emergency Operations Centre will continue to monitor forest fire situations with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and be ready to coordinate a response if called upon for evacuation assistance.”
Following the provincial government’s announcement, Muskoka fire chiefs released a statement lifting the fire ban for Muskoka, adding that the fire danger rating has now been set to moderate for the region. Small fires are now allowed in most rural areas, but no daytime burning is allowed. Check with your local by-law department for outdoor burning regulations in your municipality and always be sure to see if a local fire ban is in effect before starting an outdoor fire.