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Ford urges Ontarians not to light campfires as crews battle wildfires in 'full force'

Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends the official opening of Kensington Health's expanded hospice facility in Toronto, on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is urging everyone in the province to refrain from lighting campfires, as 52 wildfires burn across the province and smoke from fires in Quebec degrades air quality. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged everyone in the province Wednesday to refrain from lighting campfires, as 54 wildfires burned across the province and smoke from fires in Quebec degraded air quality.

Half of the fires are started by lightning strikes and the other half are caused by human activity such as not properly extinguishing campfires, Ford said in the legislature.

"I'm asking every Ontarian: please do not light any campfires," Ford said. "We're out there, all the firefighters are out there I should say, fighting against these wildfires ... we will throw every resource we can to make sure we put these fires out."

Ford was responding in question period to NDP Leader Marit Stiles, who said climate change is making the fire season worse.

"I asked the premier today to just simply go on record and acknowledge that ... climate change is real, that the fires that we're seeing across this province – especially on a day like today, which is Clean Air Day, ironically – that this is linked to climate change," she said after question period. 

"I want the government to do that because I want the premier to acknowledge that they have a responsibility in how we're going to mitigate climate change."

Ford said he was "in shock" that Stiles would politicize the wildfires, and noted they occur every year.

Much of the province is under a fire ban, though not all of it, and Ford said his message extended across Ontario. 

Opposition leaders said there should be a full fire ban across Ontario, but Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Graydon Smith said the province implements fire bans on Crown land, and municipalities can assess their own situations.

"Throughout most of eastern, central, northeast and northwest Ontario, there is a fire restriction and ban in place," he said.

"But I think the message to everybody is clear that this is a very delicate situation, people need to take a level of personal responsibility, the rules apply to them, they need to make sure that we're following them to ensure that we do not have any unintentionally set, man-made fires." 

Ontario has 142 fire ranger crews and a fleet of 28 aircraft to fight fires, including nine heavy water bombers, and crews are responding in full force to manage the fires, Ford said. Four water bombers from Minnesota are assisting right now, Smith said.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said there are 54 active fires, including 29 not under control. As of Wednesday morning, 13 new fires had been discovered and fire rangers extinguished six fires on Tuesday.

Environment Canada shows a moderate, high or very high air quality risk across most of the province, with values especially high in eastern Ontario. Officials have said that a lot of the smoke seen in Ontario comes from wildfires in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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