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Fire, Smoke Issue Over Thanksgiving Weekend

Extremely dry weather, high winds and above-average temperatures have put a damper on crop residue burning, while a wildfire had some producers on evacuation standby over the holiday weekend.

I was ready to call in Emergency Measures, it was that close, said Victor Baraniuk, reeve of the rural municipality of Clanwilliam. But we were lucky, the conditions changed, we got some rain and the fire changed course.

He said a fire in the Muskrat Creek area of Riding Mountain National Park threatened about a dozen farming operations in the area, including his own.

In the 16 years I ve been doing this I ve never seen anything like this before, said Baraniuk.

He noted the municipality has an evacuation plan for both people and livestock, but has never had to use it. The reeve said this has been a learning experience for the municipality, and it will help with developing future emergency plans.

Some farms put on evacuation standby had as many as 550 head of cattle.

It would have been quite a job to get it all done, but people first, then animals. Everyone on council would have a job to do, said Baraniuk.

He added that Parks Canada and local fire departments were instrumental in ensuring things went smoothly, and that the fire was kept at bay.

Under control

In a news release, Parks Canada said its fire specialists were able to bring the fire under control in the late hours of October 10, with the use of fire crews, helicopters and bulldozers.

Co-operation is key, said Baraniuk, who praised Parks Canada for its quick action.

Wildfires were also causing problems in other areas of the province.

In an Oct. 7 press release, Manitoba Conservation indicated new burning permits would not be issued for eastern Manitoba and that any existing permits for that region have been cancelled.

The department said fire risks for some areas of the province have become extremely high, noting winds can push flames rapidly, igniting large areas of land and spreading the flames into forested areas.

Although the fire in Riding Mountain was mostly extinguished by Thanksgiving Monday, other fires continued to burn, including a large fire north of Long Lake. PR 304 east of Bissett and west of Wallace Lake were closed due to fire crossing the highway and heavy smoke. Several smaller fires were also burning in the area at that time, while a fire that began in the municipality of Stuartburn has spread to the RMs of Piney, Reynolds and Labroquerie. More than 160 firefighters from 27 different fire departments are battling that fire.

No permits

To prevent new fires from starting, crop residue burning permits are not being issued in the eastern region of Manitoba at this time.

Mani toba Conservat ion requires a permit for any burning, including crop residue, within burning permit areas between April 1 and Nov. 15 of each year. Specific information regarding burning permit areas is available through local Manitoba Conservation offices.

If conditions change and fire is no longer a threat, resumption of crop residue burning will be allowed.

There has been a lot of smoke in the air, especially in Winnipeg the last few days, but none of it is from residue burning, said Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives meteorologist, Mike Wroblewski. The whole thing that we are trying to do with the permit system, is to reduce harmful smoke, and over time reduce the amount of crop residue being burnt.

Alternatives

However, the meteorologist added illegal burning is becoming less of a problem as producers become aware of the affect smoke can have and as alternative methods for dealing with crop residue become more widely available. Wroblewski added farmers are also respectful of fire risks when they arise.

Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agr icul tural Producers, said new technology such as improved straw choppers on combines, has helped reduce the need to burn crop residue.

The heavy harrow, vertical tillage, these ideas have really caught on, he said, adding high fertilizer prices can also play a role in reducing crop burning.

Farmers are going to think twice about putting a match to something that could be worth $30 to $40 an acre, why have it go up in smoke?

However, Chorney said he believes there will always be some need for crop residue burning in the Red River Valley.

But I think this is working, so far no one has contacted us to say they couldn t get out there and burn when they needed to, he said.

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About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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