COVID-19 won't prevent hiring of Rangers
Timmins The Daily Press

With much of the province now under a restricted fire zone, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is taking a cautious approach as forest fire season quickly approaches.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic won’t prevent the hiring of new team members for the Ontario Fire Rangers.

“The health and well-being of our staff and the people of Ontario is our top priority,” said Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer with the ministry.

“Since we first learned of COVID-19, Ontario has been diligently monitoring the situation and taking decisive action to contain the spread of this new virus.”

Hiring usually takes place between February and May for the provincial organization, which has been in place since 1885 and employs hundreds annually.

On Thursday, the Ontario government announced the province’s entire fire region, essentially everything north of the Mattawa and French River, and the residents within are now restricted from having outdoor fires of any kind.

This is in an effort to support emergency responders during the COVID-19 crisis.

“During this very challenging time, when we are fighting the spread of the virus, our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of the people of Ontario,” said John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry in a media release.

“We are putting these important preventative measures in place now to ensure our emergency responders are able to focus their efforts where they are needed most.”

With the majority of the provincial population now in self-isolation or practicing social distancing at home and warmer temperatures in the forecast, the urge for residents to have private bonfires was likely high — particularly with many people planning to head to camps and cottages in the not-too-distant future.

“While it is not typical to issue these types of regulations so early in the season, we are living in unprecedented times and we all need to do our part to ensure emergency resources remain available, while also making sure we don’t exhaust or compromise our emergency service personnel,” said Timmins Fire Chief Tom Laughren.

Even without human-caused fires, which the ministry projects represents approximately 50% of all fires in Ontario annually, the province is still susceptible to forest fires from lighting strikes and a strategy is needed.

“Ontario’s response plan will continue to evolve to maintain direction from the Ministry of Health and ensure our ability to respond to forest fires,” Kowalski said.

“Wildfires will continue to be assessed and receive an appropriate response, according to the circumstances and condition of the fire. Wildfires that are an immediate threat will be responded to as quickly as possible, to minimize damage and disruption.”

She stressed the ministry will continue with required training of firefighters and seasonal staff to help maintain their capacity to respond to wildfires, while ensuring the safety of staff and personnel by taking precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The restricted fire zone will remain in place “until Ontario’s ability to respond to emergencies is no longer impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Municipal governments have been asked to update their websites with information for residents.

As one might expect, there are currently no reported wildfires in Northeastern Ontario.

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