Friday, May 10, 2013

Burn ban message not getting through, fire officials say

New Brunswick has had nearly 300 man-made fires since mid-April

CBC News Posted: May 10, 2013 6:03 AM AT Last Updated: May 10, 2013 7:27 AM AT

Fire has dominated the news in New Brunswick this week, with hundreds of people forced from their homes, two houses and a cottage destroyed, and hundreds of hectares burned, yet people continue to light grass fires.

Moncton firefighter Paul Bruens says some people, unbelievably, are still not getting the message that the entire province is under a burn ban.

"We responded to a call earlier today where a person was burning leaves on their property," Bruens told CBC News on Thursday.

"We just have to get the word out and let them know how serious it is right now, how extreme the woods are and how important it is that people are vigilant and they restrict all burning until after the ban is lifted."

Even under perfect circumstances, people aren't supposed to have open fires within city limits, said Bruens.

But the woods right across the province are tinder dry because of a lack of rain and record-breaking temperatures, said Rick Jenkins, with the provincial Department of Natural Resources.

In his 37 years on the job, he says he's never seen a spring like this one.

There have been nearly 300 fires since mid-April, more than 42 of those in just the past three days.

"People will burn grass around their houses or maybe they will burn some brush or something, not realizing just how volatile the fine fuels are," said Jenkins.

A biochemistry professor at Mount Allison University says, contrary to popular belief, fires are not beneficial to grass growth.

Stephen Duffy says he's not sure why people are compelled to burn brush and grass this time of year.

"You're removing that material, and then there may be an instant release of nutrients that remain within the ash, but then they are washed away fairly quickly and they're not there long-term," he said.

"If something decays slowly over time and becomes part of the soil, it's going to be released slowly over time."

Duffy says grass and dead brush are best left to decay naturally.

Marc-Andre Villard, a biology professor at the University of Moncton, agrees burning grass and undergrowth doesn't benefit lawns or soil quality.

"Your dandelion will be very, very happy afterwards because it's going to get a lot of fertilizer from this and the roots are going to come out intact, you know, it's just a myth."

It's also destructive to wild life and dangerous, Villard stressed.