Ontario's record-breaking fire season finally in the books
Winnipeg Sun
KENORA — The wildland fire season officially came to a close on Oct. 31 and one thing is clear — 2021 was the worst fire season ever recorded in Ontario.
All in all, 793,325 hectares of forest were burned within the province over the season, surpassing the previous record of 713,914 hectares first set in 1995. Since beginning to record the numbers in 1960, other notable years have included 1961 with more than 623,000 hectares burned and 1980 with more than 560,000 and 2011 with more than 635,000.
Notably, Kenora Fire 51 burnt a total of 200,667 hectares, surpassing Sioux Lookout 70 fire’s rough total of 140,000 in 2011 hectares to become Ontario’s largest-ever fire on record.

“Kenora 51 accounted for approximately one-quarter of the total hectares burned this season,” said fire information officer Jonathan Scott with the Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services in a phone interview. “As a single incident, it represents a figure well over the ten-year average for total annual hectares burned in the province, which is 162,846.”First discovered on June 8, Kenora 51 was declared under control on Oct. 12 and called out on Oct. 31, but not before causing Wabaseemoong Independent Nations to be evacuated.

Other communities that were evacuated over the season due to fires in the region include Naicatchewenin First Nation, Poplar Hill First Nation, Deer Lake First Nation, Pikangikum First Nation, Cat Lake First Nation, North Spirit Lake First Nation, and the municipality of Red Lake.

In addition to Kenora 51, Red Lake 16 also burned big, clocking in at more than 158,000 hectares and also surpassing the previous 2011 single fire size record. First discovered on May 29, Red Lake 16 was declared out on Oct. 5.

Several interprovincial and international partnerships were needed to repel the flames, with crews arriving from all over the world to help fight the fires. Scott called each bit of extra help “crucial.”

According to the AFFES, several weather-based factors played into the severity of the fire season, ranging from precipitation to temperature to wind conditions.

“Spring arrived in the northwest with a lower than average winter snowpack, giving an early start to snow-free conditions in many parts of the province,” Scott said. “A dryer than average May, paired at times with higher winds and warmer than average temperatures and low humidities set the stage for a fast-moving and problematic fire season.

“Weather stations near the Manitoba border normally receive 270-300 millimetres of precipitation through May, June and July, but several received less than 100mm, approximately 33 per cent of normal rainfall.”

Scott added climate change is also at play, resulting in fire seasons getting longer and longer in Ontario each year. For the past 50 years, the Ministry of Northern Development, Natural Resources and Forestry has recorded rising temperatures, which in turn lead to more occurrences of dry lightning and by extension more forest fires.

“Weather influences the fire season,” Scott said. “Climate change, combined with other factors, is expected to increase the occurrence and associated overall risks of wildland fires.”

With the 2021 season in the rearview mirror, the MNDNRF is unable to make any predictions about next year’s season at this time. As of Nov. 16, there are currently no active fires in the northwest region.


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