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Forest fire still not under control in northwestern Ontario

A wildfire raging in northwestern Ontario has prompted evacuations
A wildfire raging in northwestern Ontario has prompted evacuations

Lyndsay Morrison, staff writer

June 28, 2011 — Although rain has been falling in northwestern Ontario, officials say it's only a temporary reprieve.

The smoke is a bigger concern than the flames at this time
The smoke is a bigger concern than the flames at this time

Crews are working around the clock to try and stop a wildfire from reaching the Mishkeegogomang First Nations near Pickle Lake. As of Tuesday afternoon, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources said the fire was about 66,000 hectares in size and still not under control.

Evacuations began in northwestern Ontario on Friday after smoke began to spread across the region. Officials say the evacuees consist of elders, young children and their parents, as well as people with breathing problems.

The 400 evacuees were transported to the Sioux Lookout, Ignace and Greenstone towns where they wait for news about returning home.

Winds have caused the fire to grow quickly, and pushed it near the Pickle Lake community, where crews are hoping for rain to help with the emergency response.

Crews rely on water bombers to fight fires
Crews rely on water bombers to fight fires

“Sunday was probably one of the first days that we've been able to actually look at getting people in on the fire line,” Barry Graham, a fire behaviour analyst, told The Weather Network on Sunday. Graham is stationed at the Pickle Lake Attack Base.

Because the fire has been so active, fire crews have been limited to aerial attacks and other measures.

“Rain is obviously beneficial in slowing down the rate of spread of the fire and reducing the fire behaviour, so that it's safe to put ground crews in along the fire line,” said Graham.

Close to 25 mm of rain fell in the Pickle Lake area through Tuesday morning. While that wasn't enough rain to help contain the fires completely, officials say firefighters are making progress.

Still, it could be some time before evacuees are allowed to return home.

“The last thing we want to do is jump the gun,” said Dave Jackson, an Ontario fire information officer. “If a little bit of rain comes through, or maybe the smoke moves off, we don't want folks to go back too soon because things are so dry here right now. Even like 20 mm of rain, 30 mm of rain -- that will dry out within a day or two.”

According to Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources, there are currently less than half the number of active forest fires in Ontario in comparison to this same time last year. Hectares affected however are about 77,000, which is well ahead of the 10-year average.

Ontario Forest Fires
Last Year - 201064013,254
10 Year Average (mean)37343,389

With files from Andrea Stockton and Lisa Varano

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