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More fires spark in northwestern Ontario


Lightning strikes have been complicating firefighting efforts in northwestern Ontario
Lightning strikes have been complicating firefighting efforts in northwestern Ontario

Jill Colton, staff writer

August 7, 2011 — Hot and dry conditions along with lightning strikes have been sparking many new forest fires in northwestern Ontario.

All evacuees have returned home, but smoke is an ongoing concern
All evacuees have returned home, but smoke is an ongoing concern

More than 100 fires are still burning across the region and have so far consumed hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest.

A low pressure system brought some welcome rain showers to the Nickle Belt over the weekend -- but with those showers came lightning strikes, which are sparking new fires as quickly as crews can extinguish others.

“Most of the new fires that have created problems the last few weeks were sparked by lightning,” said Art Osborne, a fire information officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Conditions continue to be ripe for fire ignition.

“Fire conditions for the next short while are going to be similar to what they've been for the last four weeks -- that is, generally hot and dry with some potential for gusty winds,” Osborne said.

So far this year, more than 600,000 hectares of land have been affected by fires -- the third-largest area to be affected in Ontario in the last 50 years.

“The number of fires to date is about the same as the 10 year average -- just under 700 fires,” Osborne explained.

”The difference this year is the size of some of those fires and the intensity to which some are burning.”

The size and intensity of this year's fires is remarkable
The size and intensity of this year's fires is remarkable

About 2,000 firefighters are engaged in the fire battle, including 500 personnel from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Yukon.

The government has also recruited some foreign help for the fire lines.

“For the first time this season, we have assistance coming from our colleagues south of the border, from Minnesota. They've also given us a hand with a waterbomber and a quick strike on a fire,” Osborne said.

There is some good news: as of Wednesday, all 3,600 area residents who had been forced to leave their smoke-threatened communities had returned home.

However, smoke remains a concern for people living in the region. There have been reports of smoky smells and hazy air as far away as Manitoba.

With files from Sana Ahmed

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