MUSKOKA - There are no fires, of any kind, allowed in Muskoka.
Fireworks displays in the district have been called off until the weather includes some rain. Small campfires could also result in hefty fines. It’s just too dry and too dangerous, according to fire officials, who have implemented a total fire ban across the district. Fireworks are included in the list of activities prohibited until the region gets more rainfall.
Imposed amid a streak of hot and dry weather in Muskoka, the ban does not allow open air burning of any type, including small campfires usually permitted for cooking and warmth.
Officials will lift the ban once there’s enough precipitation in the region. To date, the area has received less than 2 mm of rain in July, compared to an average of 85 mm for the month.
Fireworks planned as part of a Pride celebration in Wahta were in limbo as of Friday. Through an automatic aid agreement, the Township of Muskoka Lakes provides fire protection to Wahta Mohawk Territory. However, Muskoka Lakes fire chief Richard Hayes said the District of Muskoka’s fire ban does not apply to the Wahta Mohawks.
“It’s actually federal land, so it’s not regulated under the same conditions that we are,” he said.
The fire ban was put into place on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 17. On Wednesday, the Huntsville and Lake of Bays fire departments were called to a grass fire on Pine Ridge Road, which was believed to have been sparked by lightning.
A week prior, firefighters in Muskoka Lakes were called to extinguish four separate fires over the course of five days. Of those, two were caused by campfires and a third was linked to the burning of debris.
In that case, firefighters had extinguished the flames and left the site a week earlier, but the fire had apparently crept underground and flared up again on Friday, July 13.
The resurging fire grew large enough to engulf five to six acres, and firefighters on the ground had to enlist the help of Ministry of Natural Resources water bombers to help put it out.
Municipal firefighters and ministry staff also fought fires north of Parry Sound and in Georgian Bay Township last week.
Gravenhurst residents were also reminded of the fire ban during a special council meeting in Ryde on Tuesday, July 17.
In nearby Algonquin Provincial Park, a restricted fire zone order was declared on Wednesday, July 18. Throughout most of the park, campfires aren’t permitted until the ban is lifted.
“In this restricted fire zone, open fires are banned in the park interior,” Ministry of Natural Resources spokesperson Raj Dahari said in a statement. “For all the designated campgrounds along Highway 60 (Rock, Coon, Whitefish, Pog, Kearney, Lake of Two Rivers, Mew, Canisbay and Tea Lake), campfires will be allowed in approved fire pits between 7 and 10 p.m.”
Campers in those campgrounds will have to ask permission before they light their fires, he said.
He said portable gas stoves for cooking and warmth within the restricted fire zone are still allowed, but that the public is asked to use extreme caution, and that campground staff should be consulted first.
“Ministry of Natural Resources staff will strictly enforce the restrictions on open burning,” he said. “Starting or tending a campfire in a restricted fire zone can lead to a fine of up to $1,000.”
According to the ministry, there have been 855 forest fires in Ontario so far this year, many were caused by people and occurred near populated areas.
To date this year, 54,643 hectares have been burned.
For the time being, there is no rain in the forecast for Muskoka.
In Algonquin Provincial Park, a restricted fire zo