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EDITORIAL: Burning not worth the risk

Some of Pictou County’s fire departments were busy on Tuesday – on calls that simply shouldn’t be happening. We go through this every year around this time, people lighting grass fires or other debris they’ve cleaned up and set a match to.

And, once again, some firefighting personnel in the province find themselves having to remind people to heed restrictions and be more cautious. Flames can easily get out of control, but considering how dry it’s been for the past number of days, and the stiff breezes blowing on Tuesday, that’s just a recipe for disaster.

Additionally, regardless of what restrictions are in place generally in the province setting hours when a fire is permitted, people need to know what is allowed in their own area. A number of the fires in Pictou County were in Trenton. As New Glasgow Police Const. Ken MacDonald points out, a bylaw categorically forbids open burning in Trenton.

Neglecting bylaws, restrictions and risky conditions such as extreme dryness and wind is disturbing enough. But at least one of the instances responded to on Tuesday is being investigated as an arson.

For those who do feel the need to burn materials, restrictions are in place for good reason, and the potential hazard is huge. From the perspective of the Department of Natural Resources, March 15 was the beginning of wildfire risk season in the province. With dry conditions, even a tended fire can quickly get out of control with an unexpected gust of wind, and perhaps spread into woods or endanger residences.

DNR also has attempted in recent years to shed a higher degree of wisdom on the age-old rite of burning grass. Burning really doesn’t do any good.

Those plants after maturing in the fall already deposited their seeds on the earth. Burning off the dead vegetation in spring simply clears the ground and provides a perfect spot for any weeds to sprout up.

Burning doesn’t improve the new grass crop, in fact, it reduces the grass yield by 50 to 70 per cent. It doesn’t make the grass greener, it only looks greener in contrast to the charred ground.

If the desire is to clean an area, DNR advises, it’s better to till or plow vegetation under – as the plant matter decomposes it helps enrich the soil with minerals and organic material.

Burning also destroys the habitat of various animal life such as voles and the nests and eggs of some species of birds. If the fire engulfs woodlands, the impact is obviously a lot greater.

It pays to keep in mind how much of a nuisance and unnecessary risk this is to fire departments and their staff. They could easily be needed elsewhere, to fight a fire or help out in some other emergency. Tying them up with something resulting from an unwise decision is hugely unfair to these volunteers and to the rest of the public relying on their services.

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