Even though there’s still snow on the ground in some parts of the province, forest fire crews in Ontario are gearing up for another summer.

This year’s fire season started April 1 — and officials are watching the weather closely.

While the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is predicting a fairly slow start to the fire season — thanks to the dampening effect of the spring melt — officials are watching areas where the snow is already gone, including places like open fields and south-facing slopes.

“People should exercise caution, and ensure conditions are suitable for safe burning, and that they are able to properly control their fires,” said Jonathan Scott, a fire information officer in northwestern Ontario.

Over the next month, forest fire fighters will report for duty across the province.

Grass fires a concern

Current conditions play a part in determining how much action crews may see this year, said Shayne McCool, the ministry’s acting information officer in northeastern Ontario, but they don’t solely determine how busy a fire season will be.

“There’s really no method of predicting that at this point, we just have to see what the weather does for us in the near future,” he sai The ministry monitors conditions in the bush on a weekly basis throughout the season, and assigns its personnel accordingly, said McCool.

“We have crews at our designated bases, but once we see that conditions are drying out at some bases, we’ll strategically place firefighters and resources according to those conditions.”

McCool noted grass fires are a concern early in the year. When the snow is done melting, the dryer spring weather can cause vegetation to dry out and be at-risk for burning.

Ontario’s first fire this year was a small blaze near Fort Frances in the northwest. The ministry said that fire was largely fought by the local fire department.

The four-hectare fire was officially declared extinguished on March 24.

The ministry noted that last year saw the lowest number of fires in over 50 years. There were 303 fires across the province last year — a small number relative to the average annual number of blazes logged over the past 10 years, which is more than 1,000.