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Lightning sparks new fires in northwestern Ontario


Thunderstorms sparked new fires in northern Ontario Saturday
Thunderstorms sparked new fires in northern Ontario Saturday

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

July 31, 2011 — Thunderstorms rolled through northern Ontario Saturday night, sparking two new fires in the Pickle Lake area.

The busy fire season hasn't brought down crews' morale, according to the MNR
The busy fire season hasn't brought down crews' morale, according to the MNR

That area is already dealing with two large fires. Sioux Lookout 35 has been burning for weeks near the Mishkeegogamang First Nation and has grown to 107,000 hectares -- the size of Moscow, Russia.

Sioux Lookout 70 is even bigger, burning over 140,000 hectares.

Christine Rosch, a fire information officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources based in Pickle Lake, said crews continue to face weather-related setbacks, gaining control of some fires only to have lightning spark new ones.

However, she added morale is good among the fire teams.

“Our crews are holding up very well. They've done an excellent job, especially with our larger fires,” she said. “They go out every day and make safety their number one priority.”

Crews use infrared scanners to identify new fires and hot spots
Crews use infrared scanners to identify new fires and hot spots

The MNR has some sophisticated tools at their disposal, including infrared scanners to identify new fires and flare-ups.

“We'll get a helicopter, usually early in the morning before it gets too hot, and they'll go over top (of the fires) with an infrared scanner and send their GPS co-ordinates to our mapper,” Rosche explained. “Our mapper can then create a map for our crews to go out and target those hot spots.”

Once the crews get to the scene of a fire, they can identify whether lightning was the cause.

“What the incident commander will look for is a tree with lightning scars,” Rosche said. “A lot of the time a tree will be almost blown apart because of the lightning, and then other times it'll be a little more subtle; you'll have to look for almost a crack in the tree.”

It's been seven weeks since forest fire season began in northwestern Ontario. This season has been one of the most active in recent memory.

Ontario Forest Fires
YearFiresHectares
2010 to date81414,573
2011 to date650558,583

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