The Ministry of Natural Resource’s 2016 Forest Fire program officially launched on April 1 and preparations for the upcoming season are now underway at the Northwest Region Fire Management Centre in Dryden.

Fire information officer Jonathan Scott confirmed fire crew leaders are on site undergoing mandatory training and readying equipment ranging from hose packs, pumps, hand tools and camping gear prior to the arrival of forest firefighters over the coming weeks.

“We will continue hiring until we reach the full complement of 101 four-member fire crews for the Northwest Region by early May,” Scott said.

Fire detection, intelligence and weather specialists are also based at the fire management centre to anticipate and provide timely response to fire incidents as they occur.

Located at Dryden Regional Airport, the centre is also where fire operations and initial attack aircraft are based. The Northwest region fleet includes nine CL-415 waterbombers, three DeHavilland Twin Otters, 13 helicopters, seven bird dog and 10 aerial detection aircraft.

Firefighters were called upon to extinguish the first fire and only wildfire reported so far this spring, a 0.1 hectare burn in Nipigon district on March 21.

“There is still snow on the ground and the fire hazard is low across the region,” Scott related. “Once the snow is gone, the danger increases as dead grass and dry vegetation are exposed.”

Fire managers also initiated a prescribed burn in the vicinity of Wabaseemoong First Nation last week as a preventative measure to reduce the threat that spring grass fires pose to local residents and community infrastructure. The total project size is 144 hectares and was about 40 per cent completed by Thursday, April 7.

“The project aims to reduce the hazard posed by the annual buildup of cured grass fuels that exists along the travel corridors and accessible areas where fires have historically occurred,” Scott explained.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry officials remind homeowners to exercise caution and ensure conditions are suitable for safe burning so they are able to properly control their fire. Outdoor fires are regulated under the Forest Fire Prevention Act so people need to be aware of the provisions under the Act. Always check with your local municipal office before burning as there may be additional conditions or restrictions in effect.

In 2015, a total of 352 forest fires burned 33,669 hectares across the Northwest Region.