Some North Shore residents are increasingly concerned about the fire hazard posed by all the trees downed on PEI by post-tropical storm Fiona last September.
There are thousands and thousands of fallen trees in and around the rural community of North Shore alone, with the damage being particularly bad in neighboring Prince Edward Island National Park.
Kent MacLean, who lives in Stanhope, says Fiona devastated his community. But he fears the destruction may not be over by the time the trees downed by the storm dry out enough to become tinder for a major fire.
MacLean is calling for a public meeting with representatives from the rural community, provincial government and Parks Canada so residents can learn what fire safety and management plans are in place — if any.
“I think residents would like to see what that plan is, if it exists, and if there isn’t one, let’s come up with one,” MacLean said.
Post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019 “created a lot of deadwood and trees in the surrounding forests, and Fiona compounded that in extreme ways,” MacLean said.
“Many local residents, particularly here on the Stanhope Peninsula, are very concerned about the amount of deadwood and the increased risk of fire this summer.”
Fiona hit the province hard in September 2022, packing winds in excess of 170mph. In addition to Dorian’s earlier debris, MacLean said the area now has layers and layers of fallen trees.
Lightning, grass fires a concern
North Shore rural community mayor Gerard Watts said the council met with Parks Canada, which borders his community, and provincial forest officials over the concerns.
Watts noted that there is also a Fiona debris disposal site in the community and people want it cleaned up.
“The concern of local residents is what would happen if we were struck by lightning or someone [lit] a grass fire or someone was burning brush,” Watts said. “One individual lighting a fire can affect the whole community.”
In a letter to the rural community, Tara McNally MacPhee, acting field director for Parks Canada on PEI, said park officials are confident they can mitigate the risk of wildfires in the park.
McNally MacPhee said that the park, established in 1937, had never had a fire caused by lightning, and only three small fires had been caused by humans in the past two decades.
In the letter, Parks Canada also raises concerns about debris removal, saying in part, “We understand the position that removing large amounts of coarse timber debris from our forest ecosystem will reduce fire risk; however, it is important to remember that the remaining large pieces of wood provide shade, habitat for ground vegetation, and increase soil moisture over time.
“Removing too much material encourages the growth of grasses and other fine fuels, which harden quickly in hot summer conditions and pose a greater risk of fire initiation.”
In a statement to CBC News, Parks Canada added that it was “well prepared with on-site equipment and resources” should a fire break out, including firefighting water systems at the Dalvay site and at Cavendish and Stanhope campgrounds.
The rural community is planning a public meeting with Parks Canada and provincial officials to ensure appropriate steps are being taken to protect their community in what is expected to be another hot, dry summer.
Deputy Mayor Nancy MacKinnon said she hopes the public meeting will help clean the air and could persuade Parks Canada to clean up some of the fallen debris.
“The local residents are very concerned,” she said. “If ever something were to happen … it could jump and get into the community and do a lot of damage.”