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As wildfire season nears, northern Ont. township calls for better preparation

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In the wake of last summer’s devastating wildfires, a northern Ontario mayor is calling on the federal and provincial governments to be better prepared this summer.

Reflecting on the worst fire season Canada ever faced last summer, Calvin Township Mayor Richard Gould said he fears the worst.

“What's this year going to bring? Well, a lot of the experts are saying that this is going to be a devastating year,” Gould said.

Calvin Township council passed a resolution Jan. 30 calling on upper levels of government to form a national firefighting strategy. The motion also asks governments to increase funding to help offset firefighting costs that municipalities incur.

The resolution was sent to the Liberal government’s Department of Defence, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Premier Doug Ford’s office and the Ontario government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

In the wake of last summer’s devastating wildfires, a northern Ontario mayor is calling on the federal and provincial governments to be better prepared this summer. (Photo from video)

“So this is something that you can't just plan for on the fly,” Gould said.

“You've got to be prepared ahead of time.”

Council also directed staff to forward the resolution to all 444 of Ontario’s municipalities seeking their support.

Experts are forecasting a hotter, but wetter spring. But Gould fears a mild winter will lead to another big forest fire season.

The resolution requests Canada bolster its aging fleet of water bombers.

“What we have in Ontario is 20 planes, eight of which are older water bombers or skimmer bombers,” Gould said.

“The other 12 planes are fixed-wing aircraft, I guess, used for spotting.”

'We're really worried'

North Bay Fire Chief Jason Whiteley is a director for the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs. Fire chiefs are already reporting several fast-spreading grass fires in southern Ontario, he said.

“We’re really worried. Across the country we need to be better prepared,” Whiteley said.

“If we ever got a fire in the wrong spot with the wrong wind direction, you know, how are we how are we going to deal with this, especially if the province or the country is blowing up?”

Whiteley said there has been talk of reinstating a program that provided grants to municipal fire departments for emergency management preparation.

The grant was mainly used to tackle the backlog of equipment purchases.

“So we did a national census and the amount of fire departments that have been deferring purchases because of COVID, the increased costs of everything is having a real hit on the municipal dollars and being able to provide a service,” Whiteley said.

“At the national level, the fire chiefs have been advocating for a national fire adviser and a system similar to the United States like a FEMA type system, not only to deal with the coordination of wildland fires but any type of natural emergency management type actions.”

Gould says at least 25 other municipalities have supported the call for action.

CTV News contacted the DND and MNRF for comment on the resolution. Our requests did not meet the deadline for publication. 

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