Burn ban now removed two weeks earlier than scheduled

DUNDAS COUNTY — Open-air fire bans originally scheduled to run through May 15 in Dundas County were nixed last week by the various jurisdictions involved.

In a move that raised some eyebrows in the agricultural community, the City of Ottawa pre-emptively set an April 12 through May 15 burn ban — despite fairly moist conditions this spring. In turn, North Dundas, as a matter of automatic policy, followed Ottawa’s lead — just as the township was engaging local farmers on the idea of allowing large brush-pile fires only during the six coldest months of the year, including all of April.

A day or so later, Municipality of South Dundas Director of Fire & Emergency Services Cameron Morehouse similarly imposed an immediate burn ban with a May 15 sunset — which was also cut short last week. However, at the April 18 South Dundas Council meeting, Morehouse, who carries the title of chief, explained the May 15 date “was just a number that I had. That’s not written in stone.”

He added, “It can be shortened if we get lots of rain and everything greens up, we’ll end it earlier. Or we may have to prolong it longer than that. It was a Monday after Mother’s Day [May 15] and I thought that would be a good day to have it so the guys can have time to spend with their wives and mothers …”

Unlike North Dundas, South Dundas does not take its lead from Ottawa but leaves the burn ban decision up to the municipal fire chief.

Councillor Archie Mellon, who had questioned Morehouse, noted that South Dundas was getting positive feedback from farmers pleased the township was not proposing a six-month ban on brush-pile burning. But the councillor expressed concern about spelling out an explicit time frame for any ban. “I’d prefer the wording to say, ‘Until conditions improve,'” he said. “Because when somebody looks at May 15, I know for a fact that if you leave it to [then], there’ll be guys burning.”

Morehouse assured the councillor that South Dundas wasn’t alone in imposing a burn ban with a May 15 end date, pointing to North Dundas as well as a number of others in Leeds and Grenville.

Mellon said he would respect the chief’s decision but suggested handling fire calls during spring burning “comes with the territory, unfortunately.” The councillor also raised the idea of amending the municipality’s open-air burning bylaw to take into account whether debris to be burned is surrounded by plowed land. “That may go a long way to preventing things,” he offered, adding, “I’ll be honest with you, I was burning this morning before I knew the burn ban was on, but my ground was all worked.”

Morehouse listened to the suggestion but asserted that South Dundas farmers are “relieved” the municipality isn’t proposing the type of restriction being mulled in North Dundas. “I got lots of earfuls about that,” he said of calls recently received from members of the agricultural community. “I assured them it would be a council decision, not a fire department decision.”

Councillor Marc St. Pierre asked the chief to “enlighten” him on why the burn ban was imposed, in light of the “pretty wet spring” conditions.

Morehouse explained that while the ground is wet, the top vegetative layer dries very quickly in the wind.

Ottawa burn bans don’t apply to North Dundas campfires

While the point is moot for the moment, a local North Dundas fire official told Nation Valley News that when Ottawa imposes an open-air fire ban, which does apply to campfires within the city’s jurisdiction, the resulting burn ban does not apply to campfires when carried over to North Dundas.