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McGuinty surveys fire damage in northwestern Ontario


Thousands of people are being airlifted out of fire-threatened northern Ontario communities (courtesy Ministry of Natural Resources)
Thousands of people are being airlifted out of fire-threatened northern Ontario communities (courtesy Ministry of Natural Resources)

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

July 22, 2011 — Premier Dalton McGuinty is touring northwestern Ontario Friday to survey the damage caused by out-of-control forest fires.

Smoke has been affecting some residential communities
Smoke has been affecting some residential communities

Premier Dalton McGunity left a premiers' conference in Vancouver two days early in order to ensure that all assistance possible is offered to those impacted by the raging fires.

McGuinty is touring both Dryden and Thunder Bay and is working with fire personnel, volunteers and evacuees.

There are more than 3,000 people who have been evacuated due to heavy smoke and fast moving flames. Hundreds were forced to leave their homes earlier this week as flames came within kilometres of some communities.

By Wednesday afternoon, 1,800 people had been airlifted out of the communities of Sandy Lake, Kingfisher Lake and Wunnumin Lake. All evacuees were first being taken to Thunder Bay, then relocated to host communities across Ontario, including Greenstone, Kapuskasing and even Ottawa.

More than 2,000 firefighters are involved in the battle, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) says more help is on the way from B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fires have already scorched over 300,000 hectares (courtesy Ministry of Natural Resources)
Fires have already scorched over 300,000 hectares (courtesy Ministry of Natural Resources)

“Pretty well every community in the northwest region has the potential to be affected by smoke,” says Debbie MacLean, a fire information officer for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Dryden.

“Of course it all depends on the weather - which way the wind is blowing. If the weather is fine, clear, sunny, dry and windy, then the fires come back to life and the ones that are already burning flare up, and then we have more smoke.”

Hot temperatures and tinder-dry conditions are fueling the flames. This fire season has already been more active than in years past; fires have so far affected more than 500,000 hectares, compared to 15,000 last year.

MacLean says the battle is taking its toll on personnel on the ground.

“It's been since the end of June, and so you can imagine with the fire personnel out on the lines, the heat, the humidity, the fatigue that would come...they're going to have to come and get a couple of days off.”

MNR has declared much of the northwest a restricted fire zone, which means no burning can take place except with special permission.

Anyone caught with an open fire in the restricted zone faces a fine of up to $500.

With files from Andrea Stockton

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