POLITICS

New Brunswick natural resources minister calls on public to heed burning ban

05/08/2013 08:32 EDT | Updated 07/08/2013 05:12 EDT
FREDERICTON - All of the forest fires that have been reported in New Brunswick this year have been man-made, a sign that the public isn't heeding a ban on burning, the province's natural resources minister says.

"There are some people in New Brunswick who don't use the heads on their shoulders," Bruce Northrup said in an interview Wednesday.

"There has been a fire ban since last Thursday and people are still flirting with fire and endangering people's lives."

Firefighters were battling several fires throughout the province, including one that destroyed a couple of mobile homes west of Moncton.

Northrup said he believes the fines for breaking the fire ban and other burning regulations — which range from $172.50 to $20,500, depending on the severity of the offence and other circumstances —are adequate.

But he said the department may have to get tougher when it comes to enforcing the rules.

"I guess we have to be stronger with our message that people can be charged if they are responsible and maybe they'll have to pay for the firefighting," he said.

"It costs thousands of dollars to fight one little fire."

The Liberal natural resources critic said the department needs to improve its awareness programs in advance of the fire season, which begins on the third Monday of April and concludes at the end of October.

Roland Hache said the government also needs to do a better job of enforcing the rules it has in place.

"If there's no enforcement, then it's meaningless," Hache said.

As of late Wednesday, the Natural Resources Department's website said 282 fires spanning an area of 580 hectares were reported this year. That compares to 222 fires covering 305 hectares for the same period last year.

The department says as of Monday, 89 people had been either ticketed or charged for various fire violations.

"Some people don't get it," said Charles Beaulieu, a wildlands fire prevention officer.

Beaulieu said with the good weather, people are eager to clean up their properties and fail to take fire safety into consideration.

"When they light a fire, they're probably surprised when it's caught in the wind and all of a sudden it's gone and they don't have enough arms and legs to run after it," he said.

The conditions this spring haven't helped firefighting crews.

Beaulieu said while snow lingered in the province longer this year than in the past, the land dried up quickly, and according to Environment Canada, the province hasn't seen any rain for 12 days.

Meteorologist Claude Cote said many areas of the province have set record temperatures this week, with Bathurst, on the north shore of New Brunswick, hitting 29.5 C on Tuesday.

But Cote said some relief was on the horizon, as light showers for some parts of the province were forecast for Thursday.

The forest fire index is high across New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It is listed as moderate to high across most of Nova Scotia.