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Rain helps extinguish fires 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 11, 2011 — Rain and cooler temperatures are helping firefighters finally get a handle on the active fires.

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

A couple of rainy days in northwestern Ontario have brought some relief to firefighters in the region.

More than 100 wildfires are still burning, but the cool temperatures and precipitation are assisting suppression efforts according to Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

On Wednesday, the MNR said 85 per cent of the 825 fires reported this year to date are officially classified as out.

Officials say crews will now be able to consolidate hose lines around some of the bigger fires.

Despite the rain and damp conditions, most of the new fires that are sparking are due to lightning strikes, explains Art Osborne, a fire information officer with MNR. The return of dry conditions this week is also posing a risk for an increase of fires once again.

So far this year, nearly 600,000 hectares of land have been affected by fires. This is the third largest area affected by wildfires in the past 50 years in the province.

“The number of fires to date is about the same as the 10 year average,” says Osborne. ”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

Approximately 2,000 firefighters remain on scene, 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 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.

The good news is, all of the 3,600 area residents who had been forced to leave their smoke-threatened communities have 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.

The recent break in the weather may not last -- long-range forecasts call for a return to dry, warm conditions, which could cause fire behaviour to once again intensify.

With files from Andrea Stockton

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