North Shore residents fear Fiona tree debris could feed a wildfire

·3 min read
Kent MacLean, who lives in Stanhope, says he’s worried post-tropical storm FIona's destruction may not be over. (Kirk Pennell/CBC  - image credit)
Kent MacLean, who lives in Stanhope, says he’s worried post-tropical storm FIona's destruction may not be over. (Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit)

Some North Shore residents are growing increasingly concerned about the risk of fire posed by all the trees post-tropical storm Fiona downed on P.E.I. last September.

There are thousands and thousands of downed trees in and around the Rural Municipality of North Shore alone, with the damage particularly bad in the neighbouring Prince Edward Island National Park.

Kent MacLean, who lives in Stanhope, says Fiona devastated his community. But he's worried the destruction may be far from over, if the trees downed by the storm dry out to the point where they become tinder for a serious fire.

MacLean is calling for a public meeting with representatives from the rural municipality, the provincial government and Parks Canada present so that residents can hear what fire prevention 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 is not one, let's get one in place," said MacLean.

Post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019 "created a lot of dead wood and trees in the surrounding woods and Fiona just added to that in an extreme way," said MacLean.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"Many of the residents, especially here on the peninsula of Stanhope, are very concerned about the amount of dead wood down and the increased risk of fire hazard this summer."

Fiona hit the province hard in September 2022, packing winds of more than 170 km/h. On top of the previous debris from Dorian, MacLean said the area now has layers and layers of downed trees.

Lightning, grass fires a concern

Gerard Watts, mayor of the Rural Municipality of North Shore, said that in light of the concerns, the council has met with Parks Canada, which borders on his community, and provincial forestry officials.

Watts noted that there is also a Fiona debris drop-off point in the community, and people want that cleaned up.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

"The concern of residents is what would happen if we got hit by lightning, or someone [lit] a grass fire or someone was burning brush," said Watts. "An individual who lights a fire can affect the whole community."

In a letter to the rural municipality, Tara McNally MacPhee, acting field superintendent for Parks Canada on P.E.I., said park officials are confident they can mitigate the risk of wildfires in the park.

McNally MacPhee said there has never been a lightning-caused fire in the park, which was established  in 1937, and in the past two decades there have been only three small fires caused by humans.

In the letter, Parks Canada also raises concern about removing the debris, saying in part: "We understand the viewpoint that removing large volumes of coarse woody debris from our forest ecosystem will reduce the risk of fire; however, it is important to remember that remaining large pieces of wood will provide shade, habitat for ground vegetation and in time, will increase soil moisture.

"Removing too much material will promote the growth of grasses and other fine fuels that will cure quickly in hot summer conditions and become a higher risk of a fire start."

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

In a statement to CBC News, Parks Canada added that it is "well-prepared with on-the-ground equipment and resources" should a fire break out, including fire suppression water systems at the Dalvay compound and at the Cavendish and Stanhope campgrounds.

The rural municipality is planning a public meeting with officials from Parks Canada and the province to ensure proper steps are taken to protect their community through what is expected to be another hot, dry summer.

Deputy Mayor Nancy MacKinnon said she hopes that public meeting will help clear the air and may spark Parks Canada to clean up some of the downed debris.

"Residents are very concerned," she said. "If anything ever happened … it could jump and come into the community and do a lot of damage."