Massive Fires Have Negligible Impact on Newsprint Supply

By Rosenberg, Jim | Editor & Publisher, August 12, 1995 | Go to article overview

Massive Fires Have Negligible Impact on Newsprint Supply


Rosenberg, Jim, Editor & Publisher


NEWSPRINT PRODUCERS seem to have been little more than singed by Canada's near-record forest fires -- a situation so bad that, with about 300 fires still burning, an official could report in late July that things had "cooled down considerably in about the last week-and-a-half."

The magnitude of the burn also was reflected in the effort to combat it. While mobilization of 400 Canadian firefighters last year set a record, Tom Johnson, duty officer at the Canadian Interagency Firefighter Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, called it "an indication of the kind of fire season we've had" that 400 U.S. firefighters joined the 1,200 Canadians marshalled to fight this year's blazes, which were largely attributed to lightning strikes.

Canadian Pulp and Paper Association woodlands director Tony Rotherham put it another way: the first six weeks' destruction equalled that of an average full year in areas where the fire was fought, and was about double the annual average for remote areas where fires are monitored but ordinarily allowed to burn.

Fortunately, the U.S. crews were free to lend a hand.

"Essentially, we were getting their weather and they were getting ours," said Johnson. "We got hot and burnt pretty good, and they stayed cool and wet."

Late May and early June made it "about the busiest spring we've had," he said, adding that "we're about a thousand fires more at this point...than on average for this time of year."

Beginning in late May, hot, dry air spread slowly east. With many fires burning simultaneously in several provinces, "one or two get away," said Johnson. "As that accumulates, your resources draw down rapidly, and so you end up with a small number of active large fires drawing down most of your resources."

While one or two provinces will usually have fires at any given time, he continued, "this year we ended up with about five of them with major fires burning at once."

With most of the damage already done and U.S. teams sent home, Johnson said 12 million acres had burned by late July. Approximately half the total was in areas not deemed critical and was allowed to burn, with officials ready to respond if fires approached any of the few settlements, mills or other sites needing protection. …

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