Northern Ontario forest fires force evacuations

Northern Ontario forest fires force evacuations

18 July 2011

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Canada — Nearly 1,500 people in northwestern Ontario left their homes Monday as smoke and forest fires spread through the region.

Residents in First Nation communities were evacuated or were in the midst of evacuating as thick smoke from the blazes threatened their homes, fire information officer Deb MacLean said. Many were sent east to Greenstone, 250 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, while a destination for others still had to be determined.

About 250 other residents were evacuated out of nearby communities last Friday, and more were put on alert.

Roughly 94 fires were burning as of Monday night, MacLean said, stretching from about 100 kilometres east of Thunder Bay to the Ontario-Manitoba border in the west, the Canada-U.S. border in the south and the shores of Hudson Bay in the north.

“This is definitely an escalated situation,” MacLean said of this year’s fire season so far, noting she hasn’t seen activity this strong since the mid-1990s.

A heavy lightning storm last weekend sparked more fires to the south, she said, near Kenora and Thunder Bay.

Five hundred firefighters and specialists were expected to fly in from British Columbia and Saskatchewan by Wednesday, as well as aircraft from Alberta, Quebec and Newfoundland.

As many as 2,000 firefighters were already on the ground in Ontario Monday, supported by 117 aircraft including 14 heavy water bombers and 80 helicopters.

The hot, dry and windy weather forecast for the rest of the week, as well as the intense humidity and rough terrain, won’t make things any easier, MacLean said.

A travel ban is in place, she added, for a portion of Highway 599 north of Pickle Lake.

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