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HomeNewsMPP Smith's 'eyes wide open' ahead of wildfire season

MPP Smith’s ‘eyes wide open’ ahead of wildfire season

Amid warnings from fire chiefs across Ontario that the upcoming wildfire season will be severe, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) Graydon Smith says a new incentive has been created.

He explained Thursday it will provide first responders with a one-time payment of up to $5,000 with a similar $1,000 incentive now in place for employees “in the system” but not on the frontlines.

Smith said the incentive is only for the 2024 season.

“We’ll be looking at other long-term strategies around retention,” he continued.

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Along with the bonus cash, Smith detailed how more than 100 permanent positions will also be created to support Ontario’s wildland fire program. “These positions will contribute to building leadership and experience within our wildland fire program,” explained Smith.

It is part of the provincial government’s $5 million investment to attract and retain wildland firefighters.

“Ontario’s fire rangers worked tirelessly under very difficult conditions to keep people, property, and our communities safe,” he continued.

He said the MNRF has around the same number of crews this year as they did last year. “Of course, I’d like more,” added Smith.

However, he pointed out Ontario benefited from mutual aid agreements last year, notably with Mexico which sent over 100 firefighters to help battle fires.

“With the number of crews we had, they did an amazing and exemplary job,” said Smith.

Smith said money will be spent in-season as needed to “get the job done,” pointing out the base budget for wildland firefighting has gone from around $70 million when Premier Doug Ford took office in 2018 to $135 million.

“We take wildland firefighting very seriously,” said Smith.

Earlier this month, Jared Cayley, fire chief for the Gravenhurst Fire Department, said scientists and experts are suggesting the upcoming wildfire season will be worse than the “record-breaking” one in 2023.

“I think there’s some concern that there hasn’t been a lot of snow in Northern Ontario,” said Smith, referencing conversations he’s had with municipal leaders across the province.

However, he said you can’t draw a “straight line” to it being a bad season just because there has been no snow, pointing out it could be mitigated depending on what happens in the spring and early parts of the summer.

He said they’re prepared to take an “eyes wide open” review to ensure they’re prepared for the season.

According to Smith, more than 700 wildfires were reported and over 440,000 hectares were burned across Ontario in 2023.

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