Dry as a tinderbox

Russell Wangersky
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If you’re big on the outdoors, chances are that you’re out on the water looking for cod this week instead of trying to find a few summer-lazy trout to rise to the fly.

But, at least on the east coast of the province, if you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a dry surprise.

Maybe not so much on the Burin or on the southern foot of the Avalon, but everywhere else, the last two weeks of hot weather are leaving quite a mark.

Salmon rivers have been closing for low water levels and high water temperatures, and occasional forest fires are starting to crop up in the news: a brush fire in Bauline last week, a weekend fire, probably started by fireworks, in Conception Bay South and three more brush fires in and around St. John’s on Monday.

Travel up past Carbonear and you’ll see a clear sign of the drying underway: ponds are shrinking back, leaving black collars of usually submerged rock all around their edges.

Bog-bike trails are throwing up plenty of dust even on the old railbed, lawn growth is slowing, and if you get down off the trails and into the woods, the lack of water is even more pronounced.


Faded vigour

The greens of shrubs and small trees are edging away from lush and into the tired and careworn washed-out of mid-August already.

Small brooks are cut back to a shadow of their former selves: on one this Sunday near Broad Cove, it was possible to herd four or five trout at a time into corners of the waterway, trout that are used to far more cover and far more range. And the water is warm, very warm.

On the edges of the brook, the sphagnum moss was still green, the pitcher plants hard and waxy, but it was still possible to walk on the cushioned moss without ever getting your feet wet; the understory, the mosses’ perpetually flooded basement, was uncharacteristically dry.

To be sure, this isn’t the dry-pocalaypse or some kind of hot-weather end of days.

String a few dry weeks together in much of the eastern part of this province and things are going to start to dry up.

The soil layer is thin, the rock close to the surface, and the vegetation generally suited to more water, rather than less. And dry it is now, and getting drier.

There isn’t a website where you can go to look at the forest fire index (now, that would be a good project for the Office of Public Engagement), but in parts of the Avalon, forestry officials can tell you it’s crept up through moderate and into the high range, and we have a steady week of dry weather forecast  ahead of us.

By the end of the week, all things being equal, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the extreme measures cropping up with a fair amount of regularity.

With that, we’re likely to see a sudden spike in forest and brush fires — no surprise then, Monday’s terse news release from the provincial government telling people to be careful in the woods, a release also putting a ban on open fires in place for the entire island.

If we’re unlucky, we’ll find ourselves in a big fire year, the kind of year when suddenly it gets so familiar that you can pick the bumblebee-rumble sound of waterbomber engines out of the air long before you see the planes make their curiously too-slow curve across the sky.

You want a time to be careful in the woods?

It’s now.

Every day that goes by, these over-hot days with the constant travelling winds, is drying the underbrush and sucking moisture out of the ground and bog.

Travel afoot and light no fires.

It’s drier than you think.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s news editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Office of Public Engagement

Geographic location: Bauline, Conception Bay South, Carbonear Broad Cove

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