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New forest fires spark in northwestern Ontario


Hot spots show more smoke when the sun shines, making them easier to target
Hot spots show more smoke when the sun shines, making them easier to target

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

August 17, 2011 — It seemed as if crews had a handle on the fire situation in northern Ontario, but lightning strikes over the weekend helped spark over 50 new fires.

Firefighters have been making good progress on the larger fires
Firefighters have been making good progress on the larger fires

It's been nine weeks since forest fire activity in northwestern Ontario began ramping up and recent cool and damp conditions finally allowed crews to make some progress.

“There was some cloud cover and rain last week and that helped cool the fire behaviour,” said Debbie MacLean, a fire information officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

“In a paradox, the cooler temperatures actually increased the firefighter activity on the fires because we were able to get more advances on the fires.”

During the break in the weather, more firefighters were able to work on the perimeters of the fires, while helicopters dropped buckets of water from above. However, the cooler weather did pose one challenge, MacLean said.

“When it's really quiet ... hot spots are not visible to the naked eye, so we have to use infrared scanning. That helps us to find the areas that may not be showing,” she explained.

After making some progress, over 50 new fires were sparked by lightning over the weekend. The MNR says most of these fires were small and “crews made excellent initial attacks.” There are currently over 100 active fires burning from Marathon to the Manitoba border and more than 2,000 firefighters remain on scene in an effort to contain the flames.

Ontario's fire season officially ends October 31st, so firefighters are still facing a long battle ahead, especially on some of the larger fires.

“Every day that we make progress shortens that time frame, but when you have a large fire perimeter ... it's a lot of labour-intensive work to make sure there's not a burning ember left on the fires,” says MacLean.

More than 600,000 hectares of land have been affected by fires this year, making it one of the most active seasons in 50 years.

With files from Andrea Stockton

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