A forest fire burning out of control northwest of the Lac des Iles mine is the latest challenge in what one fire official called the worst season in years.
The fire, called Thunder Bay 57, was projected to grow to more than 800 hectares by the end of the day Saturday, said Bob Johnson, a fire management supervisor with the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Fire crews were pulled from the blaze Friday for safety reasons, he said.
Instead, waterbombers and firefighters were dispatched to a number of smaller fires that had sprung up in the region. The goal is to put out those fires quickly before they grow out of control, and redirect those resources to the Thunder Bay fire.
Hopefully, we can have one large one instead of several smaller ones, Johnson said.
The MNR was monitoring the fire Saturday to create an action plan to fight it.
The blaze, about 90 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, is threatening some private cottages on lakes in the area. The cottages were set up with sprinkler kits Friday night, he said.
The fire is also approaching tree-planted areas under licence to Bowater and Abitibi-Consolidated, he said.
Meanwhile, rain earlier in the week helped to stall two fires burning near Armstrong, called Thunder Bay 30 and 31.
Theyre still not under control, but theyre not spreading, Johnson said. Were just mopping up hotspots as they occur.
On Saturday, at least a dozen new fires started in the Northwest region, on top of 19 fires the day before.
This is probably the worst its been in the last four or five years in Ontario, Johnson said.
The Thunder Bay district averages 80 or 90 fires each season, and last season there were only about 30, he said.
This season, there have already been more than 60.
But more than the total numbers, Its just the number of fires a day you get, and the numbers you lose control of, Johnson said. There doesnt seem to be any long-term relief.
He blames the hot weather and lack of rain.
There are two fires . . . where you can actually see signs of tree stress, he said. Those are fairly good drought conditions.
That two weeks of 30-degree weather we had just dried everything out.
In addition, lightning and high winds have made things worse, said Mitch Miller, a fire information officer.
The wind will take small fires and turn them into big fires very quickly, he said.
Additional firefighters from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories have been called in to help fight the fires.
For the latest information about forest fires in the region, the toll-free MNR information line is 1-888-258-8842.