‘It can get into the woods or even a structure, and when that happens, it can go up pretty quickly’
STEWIACKE – There’s no denying it – grass fire season is here.
Grass fires have been rampant in the past few weeks with a number of Colchester County departments responding to their own and providing mutual aid. The Stewiacke department has responded to about a dozen already, including this one in Shubenacadie on March 31.
Mark Crozier, deputy chief with the Stewiacke and District Volunteer Fire Brigade, said firefighters at the department have responded to about a dozen calls since late last month.
“We normally have a call or two in our area, but normally Indian Brook is the busiest with grass fires this time of year,” Crozier said, adding the department has responded with mutual aid to many calls in the Indian Brook area. “Usually Shubenacadie responds – the woods are still wet but the grass is dry and it burns.”
Many grass fires occur during hot, dry days, but don’t think that’s only when they happen. The Stewiacke department provided mutual aid Tuesday afternoon to Shubenacadie, who was called to a grass fire along Highway 102 just before 3:30 p.m. when the weather was wet and rainy.
While the department responds to the odd fire that accidentally starts when a resident is cleaning a yard, the majority are those that are started intentionally.
“It’s hard, especially during the day. We don’t usually have a lot of firefighters around during the day so we rely on mutual aid,” Crozier said, adding more firefighters are available at volunteer departments in the evenings.
“But after so often, you can only put up with so much. Once we receive calls and we find out the fires are intentionally started, our resources dwindle down.”
Relying on volunteers to fight the fires, Crozier said some would prefer to spend time with their families instead of fighting grass fires that are intentionally started.
“A lot of people think, ‘oh, it’s only grass,’ but with the acid rain, there is a sulfur buildup from the rain and the snow that stays on the grass. That’s why grass burns so rapidly,” the firefighter said.
“Grass fires are very dangerous. It can get into the woods or even a structure, and when that happens, it can go up pretty quickly.”
When it comes to residents wishing to burn on their property, with a proper permit, Crozier has some words of advice.
“Make sure you have a water resource close by, even if it’s a stretched out garden hose,” he said.
“If a fire is heading to the woods, firefighters can handle that, but if a shed or a house is nearby, make sure you have something on hand. That’s really the main thing.”
If a fire does get out of hand, Crozier said not to wait.
“Call 911 as soon as possible. Don’t wait. Some people do because they think they’re going to get in trouble. Call right away, it’s what we do.”
He said burning permits are available for about $10. Within Stewiacke town limits, he said they’re available at the town office or at the fire department. Outside town limits, they can be purchased through the Department of Natural Resources.
Myths and facts about spring grass burning
MYTH: Spring burning improves the new grass crop
FACT: Burning actually reduces grass yield 50 – 70 per cent.
MYTH: Burning makes the new grass come in greener.
FACT: The new grass will be the same color whether burning took place or not. It just appears greener due to the contrast against the bare, blackened ground.
MYTH: There is not much wildlife around here so I can burn grass without threatening any animals.
FACT: Burning destroys the habitat of species you don't normally see such as mice and voles, as well as the nests and eggs of certain birds. If the fire gets out of control, larger animals can be caught by the flames and many species will lose their habitat.
MYTH: Lost habitats will grow back in a few months and the wildlife will return.
FACT: It may take several years to replace what was lost. Vegetation is often multi-layered with higher growth protecting the under growth. Different species depend on different layers for food or shelter. Loss of the lower layer and its residents will impact species that prey upon those species.
MYTH: Spring burning is the easiest way to get rid of last year's vegetation.
FACT: Easy perhaps, but not good for the soil. Burning results in most of the old plants' nutrients going up in smoke or remaining in ash that is washed away. Burning releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Ploughing old plants under, or allowing them to decompose, allows carbon and fertilizing elements back into the soil.