The number of forest fires in Ontario this year is more than double last year, but still remains well below the average fire season for the province, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

The Ministry said 617 fires have burned across Ontario so far this season. In 2014, the total was 297 fires. The 10-year average is more than 1,000 fires per year. The northwest region saw 339, so far in 2015.

The fire season starts in May and doesn’t end until October 31, so the tally is likely to increase, particularly with hunters and campers using cooking and warming fires more frequently in the cooler fall weather, said northwest region fire information officer Deb MacLean.

“Spring and fall is usually when we see more human caused fires,” she said, adding that lightning is the major cause of fires in the northwest in the summer months.

‘We have had some pretty interesting Septembers’

“Lightning tapers off as we get further into the fall,” she said, “although we have had some pretty interesting Septembers with lightning strikes.”

However, the fire season has been anything but quiet for Ontario fire crews, with more than 1079 fire fighters, since May, being sent to fires in the western provinces and territories as well as the United States.

Some fires this summer near populated areas around Kenora and Red Lake were also significant, MacLean said.

“We had to do some aggressive attack from both the ground and the air so it wasn’t a quiet fire season in that sense,” she said.

On the flip side, one of the fires still active in the northwest, about 70 kilometres south of Kenora, demonstrates the ministry’s approach to forest fires as beneficial to the environment, MacLean said.

That fire has been smouldering since July 30th under the watch of forest fire crews, she said.

“We did have a number of fires that we monitored this season as they were not posing threats to people or property and by burning off old trees and vegetation they were able to renew the forest ecosystem,” MacLean said.

Contracts are up for most of the seasonal forest fire fighters in Ontario but some crews will remain in the bush when hunting season starts in the fall, she said, adding that hunters should watch out for them.