Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Disaster averted in Oka Park after fire begins

By Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door   

News Canada wildfire season fire firefighting Quebec wildfire

Apr. 5, 2024, Montreal, Que. – Only two trees were lost in a small forest fire in Oka Park over the weekend, but the incident is a reminder of the need for vigilance in the region in the face of a changing climate.

Saturday’s fire, believed to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, started around 7 p.m., according to Oka fire chief Sylvain Johnson. The department was on site until 1 a.m. and returned the next day. The Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) stayed through the night, monitoring the situation and tending to a hotspot Sunday morning.

According to Johnson, the fire came about a month earlier than the department would normally expect.

“It’s very important to be careful. It’s dry everywhere,” he said.


The fire spanned about two hectares of deciduous forest behind the three chapels of the Calvaire d’Oka, but it mostly spread on the floor of the area. All but two large trees that were felled are expected to survive, according to Johnson.

The March fire comes on the heels of a year largely defined by forest fires in the province, with unusually dry conditions creating fertile ground for fires that devastated communities in 2023 and poured smoke across the Montreal region and the Laurentians.

“Obviously, like everyone, we are crossing our fingers that last year’s scenario does not happen again this summer,” said Simon Boivin, spokesperson for the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (Sépaq), which operates Oka Park.

“On the Sépaq side, we remain vigilant to ensure compliance in our establishments with the instructions prohibiting open fires when issued by SOPFEU,” he said, adding that the parks make an effort to educate visitors on fire safety.

To Kanehsata’kehró:non Kane Montour, a member of Kanesatake’s Perimeter Security Team, the incident was concerning.

“Even though it’s not in the heart of Kanesatake, it’s still our land,” he said.

Montour, who helped put out a small fire in the Pines in November, believes the fire is a reminder that Kanehsata’kehró:non need to pay attention to fire safety guidelines on the territory. He said there have been instances of youth sparking fires in the Pines or community members making campfires that they fail to extinguish properly.

“It’s just carelessness. You shouldn’t be burning in the Pines anyways,” he said.

“As traditional people, we have a relationship with the animals and the forests. It’s our home. It’s the animals’ home. And it’s our job to protect it. People forget that.”

While Perimeter Security can assist the fire department in securing the scene of an incident, Montour urges community members to call the fire department immediately when a fire is identified.

“A lot of the fires that we’ve dealt with, the Oka fire department, if they weren’t there, people would have lost stores, would have lost houses, would have lost whatever,” Montour said. “Their response time is just amazing. They’ve got a good crew and they’re there pretty quick, man.”

Johnson said that while Kanesatake’s pine forest can be less susceptible to fire because of the height of the trees, it is crucial for people to be careful.

“They have to take care like any forest because it’s only human activities that puts the fire in the forest,” Johnson said.

He recommended community members and others avoid discarding cigarettes in the Pines and that any small fires that are built are extinguished with the utmost care.

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