Fire at the Gault Reserve likely of human origin

Fire damaged over 25 hectares of the Gault Nature Reserve’s extreme preservation sector, on the eastern flank of the Mont St. Hilaire. / Photo: Mellanie Thibeault

By McGill Reporter Staff

Staff at McGill’s Gault Nature Reserve, on Mont St-Hilaire, are assessing how much of the Reserve’s fragile ecosystems were affected by a fire that broke out on April 17th.

The fire spread to over 25 hectares of the Reserve’s extreme preservation sector, on the eastern flank of the mountain, a section that is not accessible to the public but where hikers and campers still venture out.

“Everything points to the fire being of human origin, possibly caused by the carelessness of a smoker or camper,” indicated Martin Duval, Co-ordinator of Security and Services at the Gault Nature Reserve.

Duval, who has worked at the Reserve for 24 years, said he had never seen a fire that big at Mont St-Hilaire. During spring, the ground is particularly dry and vulnerable to anything that is likely to start a fire, he added, asking for the public’s vigilance.

Gault officials became aware of the fire after residents of a nearby municipality alerted authorities to thick smoke coming from the mountain, around 1 p.m. on April 17th. Crews from the Mont-St-Hilaire fire department and the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPFEU) were called in. It took three days for the crews to fully extinguish the fire.

McGill University’s Gault Nature Reserve protects 1,000 hectares of natural primeval forests on Mont Saint-Hilaire. Affiliated with the Faculty of Science, it supports research and the teaching of natural sciences, while providing a wide range of services to the university community and to the general public.