TRURO – It’s safe to say grass fire season has arrived.
Despite some recent rainy conditions, firefighters in Colchester County have already spent countless hours battling various grass fires.
“This time of period, we are at very critical times,” said Dwane Mellish, chief of the Bible Hill Fire Brigade, about grass fire season. “We have all the dry trash from the previous year and no new growth yet. When you have the combination of the trash and the normal winds we have in this area at this time of year, things can get out of control really easily and quickly.”
It’s also the time of year, said Mellish, when many people tend to burn grass in and around their property.
“There’s a perception that burning grass will eliminate weeds and help with new growth,” said the fire chief. “Burning the grass opens more space but you’re much better off to mow.”
Mowing allows the grass to go into the organic matter in the ground, however, fire burns that organic matter.
The province introduced a new burning restrictions map in March that shows Nova Scotians when it is safe to burn, unsafe to burn or safe with restrictions.
While it means the province isn’t issuing burning permits anymore, it doesn’t supersede those bylaws each municipality may already have in place.
“Bible Hill is unique in that there is a bylaw in place that disallows any open burning within village limits, whether it is brush burning or in barrels,” said Mellish.
But that didn’t stop the Bible Hill department from attending a brush fire late last week after someone was burning inside a barrel.
“There was a puff of wind that caught a flame, lifted it up and away it went,” said Mellish. “It landed in the grass.”
Firefighters from Bible Hill had mutual aid from the Valley-Kemptown department to extinguish the blaze.
Rod Nielsen, the chief of the Brookfield Fire and Emergency Services, agreed there is no benefit to burning and stressed there are areas of the province that are worse than others.
He stressed people need to check the burning restrictions map before lighting anything.
“People don’t realize that they can be charged or given a fine for those fire services if it gets out of control,” said Nielsen, who is also the president of the Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia.
“The province doesn’t issue permits anymore and when they did, that allowed firefighters to talk to those people and make sure they knew they could be held responsible. We don’t get a chance to talk to them beforehand now.”
Nielsen said that before the new map was instituted, people were allowed to light a campfire, however, if the burning map now shows it is unsafe to burn, it’s not allowed.
As firefighters, Mellish said they will respond to all types of fires, whether intentional or unintentional, however, responding to numerous grass fires can be taxing on members and departments.
“Most people do understand, but the majority of the departments are a volunteer fire service. Grass fires tend to peak mid-afternoon when things are hottest and dry, and a lot of firefighters are in their day job,” he said. “We have an excellent mutual aid agreement in place, but that does mean that a lot of us have to leave our jobs.
“Our primary objective is to respond to accidental fires and grass fires can be, particularly in smaller areas, huge amounts of areas. Many firefighters are able to leave their jobs, but it starts to wear out its welcome.”
To access the online burn safe map, visit www.novascotia.ca/burnsafe. Those without Internet access can call 1-855-564-2876 to listen to the updated report. The map is to be used in conjunction with any permits or bylaws established in respective municipalities.