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HomeNewsGravenhurst fire chief warns upcoming wildfire season could be record-setting

Gravenhurst fire chief warns upcoming wildfire season could be record-setting

Jared Cayley says the 2023 wildfire season was “record-breaking” for many places, including Ontario, and 2024 is shaping up to be worse. 

“2023 was a record-setting year for most provinces across this country,” said Cayley during a presentation to the Rotary Club of Gravenhurst last week. “It was a record-setting year for many countries internationally and, basically, what the scientists and experts are telling us is that 2024 has said to 2023, ‘hold my beer and watch this.'” 

He made his remarks during Rotary’s ceremony to honour first responders in the area. 

Cayley said he recently learned of the term “zombie fire” which he explained is when a fire continues to smolder because of lack of precipitation. In Alberta, he said there are 100 “zombie fires” caused by the lack of rain this winter. 

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“We need your help,” he called out to residents. 

While he said some fires are “lightning strikes,” many – especially in Cottage Country, are from “human error or carelessness.” 

Cayley suggested everyone familiarize themselves with the “Be FireSmart” section of Ontario’s website, which offers tips on how to protect yourself from wildfires. 

While frightening to think about, Cayley said the Gravenhurst Fire Department (GFD), other firefighters in the area, and the MNRF are preparing. Notably, he says GFD’s equipment “links right up” with the MNRF’s, which allows for a seamless transition if they’re called in to support a local fire. 

Also, thanks to council support, Cayley said GFD has been bolstering their equipment in recent years. That includes new four-by-four pick-up trucks and a utility task vehicle, like the remote response vehicle unveiled recently by Muskoka Paramedic Services. He said both have firefighting capabilities and can get to hard-to-reach spots, which he noted Gravenhurst has many of. 

However, he said GFD has run into issues trying to get one of the specialized pick-up trucks. Cayley explained three years ago, the truck cost just under $400,000 but now the price tag has eclipsed $800,000. He said it’s forced them to “go back to the drawing board” 

“The fire truck industry has said we have the answer, then, great, sell us the answer,” he added on the issue of battling fires that standard fire engines can’t reach. 

Cayley excitedly announced eight recruits could be starting at station three in Barkway soon. 

He said it’s often difficult to recruit for it and station two in Kilworthy. He explained they determined there are over 3,600 addresses in that area, but only 1,500 are full-time homes. “We’re trying to build a firefighting force to protect all of our population and we don’t have a huge population to draw from,” he said. 

There are also plans for Cayley to gain a new shadow with GFD bringing on a co-op student from Gravenhurst High School sometime this year. 

He spoke about more good news, including multiple grant applications that he believes GFD will be successful with. Cayley didn’t elaborate on what they would allow the fire department to do but did say “you’re going to hear me scream from the mountaintops if we get these.” 

The past 12 months also saw a major communication change for the fire department with firefighters now being dispatched by the Township of Tillsonburg’s fire department. Cayley said for close to 40 years, they had been dispatched by the Orillia Fire Department but were recently forced to make a change. 

“The good news about this is that it’s all being done through the fiber optic network,” he said, adding it’s more reliable than the network used in Orillia. 

In Oct. 2023, the First Due software program was introduced which Cayley said he’s been told by people more technologically saving than him is “the best software they had seen for an emergency service.” 

He explained the program combines the five programs GFD was previously using into one and, in the future, will allow business owners to create profiles to streamline the inspection process. 

The next 12 months will also see a few big projects for GFD. 

As part of Gravenhurst’s 2024 budget, “antiquated” communication equipment will be replaced, with $285,000 set aside over the next three years. As well, Cayley said he’s seen the first drafts of the Fire Master Plan and Community Risk Assessment which are documents that will help guide future GFD decisions. 

Cayley said he appreciates the “big investment by council” to support better fire service for Gravenhurst. 

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