WINCHESTER — A relief to the township’s farming community, the Township of North Dundas has lifted its burn ban as of 7 a.m. today.
Controlled burns are allowed after procuring a $15 burn permit, subject to a number of enforced conditions since the municipality updated its open air burn bylaw, now going into effect for the first time.
“We have approximately 145 burn permits issued, and I’ve certainly heard from a number of constituents chomping at the bit to get their operations going,” said Al Armstrong, North Dundas Deputy Mayor and Fire Commissioner.
Armstrong pointed out a blanket spring burn ban has applied over the entire month of April for the last couple of years. This year’s lifting of the ban — a decision North Dundas leaves to the Ottawa Fire Service — extended that period by six days. “And really, we’re talking three extra days considering the dry weather last weekend,” he added.
But part of the delay, Armstrong conceded, stems from the COVID-19 crisis and a desire to reduce the number of times firefighters might have to go out to investigate fires called in by today’s cellphone-toting public — sometimes erroneously.
“When that phone rings, we have to send our firefighters, and by definition we’re going to have a gathering of people together,” he said.
The pandemic “was one of the factors [in the delay], but the main factor is this has been an exceptionally dry spring,” the Fire Commissioner added. “I spoke with them every day in Ottawa. The weekend before they lifted it, they had 136 fire calls in Ottawa, over 50 percent in rural areas.
“South Glengarry lifted earlier and lost 25 acres and two barns to fires.”
Administered through Ottawa — the township handed the city this authority more than a decade ago — North Dundas’s latest burn bylaw does impose some new restrictions on agricultural burning and enshrines, for the first time, a burn permit fee ($15). Township council passed the bylaw after consultations with the Dundas Federation of Agriculture and the Fire Steering Committee.
A couple of repeat offenders were fined under the bylaw’s provisions during the first week of the April burn ban this year, when North Dundas firefighters were compelled to attend 16 fires, according to Armstrong. “And we had no issues after that.”
The vast majority of farmers have respected the rules, he added, with many calling the township to receive further information.
Armstrong also conceded that much of the rule revamp is due entirely to the ubiquitous mobile devices carried by confused travellers dialling 911 whenever they see smoke or flame in a field. Firefighters must respond.
“It costs us a lot of money every time we go out to a call. This has been years coming because these firefighters have had to chase smoke all over the place,” said the Fire Commissioner. There is “no bill or fine whatsoever” if firefighters show up at a legal burn, he assured.
“This was never an anti-agriculture thing. We’re hoping everybody adheres to all the rules. Everybody owns a cell phone, but not everybody owns a brain,” he observed.
Incidentally, the North Dundas bylaw allows small recreational fires inside a proper CSA-approved container — even during a burn ban — and without a permit. According to Armstrong, however, a typical open campfire, say, inside a circle of stones, is prohibited.