During the last few years, concerns about fire safety in our forests and the staffing of fire towers in Cumberland and Colchester counties have been brought to my attention. These concerns focused on the need to protect our homes, our properties, our woodlots and our provincial parks. They also focused on the strength of our provincial firefighting programs, and their ability to respond effectively and efficiently in time of need.
I began meeting with the Minister of Natural Resources in 2011, and also put the concerns of my constituents in correspondence. Our discussions and the subsequent letters were directly related to safety and the firefighting capacities within the department.
Following the forest fire disaster in Porters Lake in 2008, a number of recommendations were made to the department. They focused on manpower, equipment and expertise. One of the troubling decisions following those recommendations was the reduction in the number of fire tower operators in the Central Area (which includes Cumberland & Colchester). This leaves us in a very vulnerable position. I brought to the attention of the Minister that there were fire tower positions in the Central Area that were not filled. In spite of the concerns I shared on your behalf, he confirmed that they would not be filled. I asked that he reverse that decision. He refused. I asked how residents could expect to feel protected from forest fires. He advised that the surveillance that had been provided by fire tower operators would now be provided by a fixed-wing aircraft out of Greenwood.
I encouraged the Minister to continue with his plan for aircraft surveillance, but that it should complement, not replace, fire tower operators. We know that early detection, early reporting and early response to wildfires is absolutely critical. Fire towers in our area have a history of providing a valuable service. Those positions are still vacant. It is now 2013 and we are approaching another summer season. Many wilderness areas in the Central Region are remote. They contain old growth, deadwood and blow-downs. This creates a tinder box for fire. This is also the time when provincial parks and private campgrounds come alive.
In addition to the reduction to fire tower operators, we now have the decision by governments regarding mowing of grass. When I brought this to their attention, I was advised it was “to respect the natural habitat”. That really means “don’t mow the grass”. Tinder-dry grass in close proximity to open fire pits is creating the “perfect storm”, and putting our forests and properties at risk. I urge the government to re-think their decisions. Mow the grass in our campsites. Fill the vacant positions in our fire towers. Provide the fire protection we need, expect and deserve. Make public safety a priority.