Canada — Timmins remains in a state of emergency Friday as shifting winds edged a growing 31,000-hectare fire perilously close to the northern Ontario city.
A smoke alert is in effect, as strong and steady winds continue to blow smoke and ash on the 45,000 residents of the northern Ontario centre. Officials said the fire remains approximately 30-35 km away from the city.
For the past few days, police escorted convoys of cars in and out of the city only for travellers trying to get home, but the western route was cut off as of late Thursday.
“We can no longer escort anyone through,” said Const. Marc Depatie. “The high winds, heavy smoke and heat are such that I cannot safely condone the travel for residents or for my fellow officers.”
The heavy smoke forced the police to move their roadblock several kilometres downwind.
“We will be turning travellers back towards the city from that junction,” said Depatie. “The heavy smoke is a major concern and we are treating it as such, it is very important that residents do not, under any circumstances place themselves in harm’s way.”
Meanwhile, firefighters in Kirkland Lake, south of Timmins, were still battling numerous hot spots along the east and west flanks of their own fire on Friday, but reported they had managed to limit the spread of the blaze, which they estimate covers 2,757 hectares.
Dry conditions, winds and lightning strikes have made their efforts more difficult, and winds are expected to shift again and increase in speed by Saturday.
Water bombers and crews from all over the region, as well as help from British Columbia and other provinces, are helping battle the blaze, which has already forced 300 people from their homes just outside the town.
Residents remain on edge after being told Wednesday to pack three days’ worth of clothing and other supplies in case of emergency evacuation.
Friday morning the town council approved a $100,000 emergency fund should an evacuation become necessary. The fires are just two of 42 burning in northeastern Ontario.
About 180 people in buses and a line of cars arrived late Wednesday night in Kapuskasing, ON, north of Timmins, after being ordered out of Mattagami First Nations near Gogoma, Ont., as another blaze came within three kilometres from their village.
Evacuees stayed at hotel rooms in Kapuskasing while waiting to learn the fate of their reserve.
Representatives from Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services said Friday afternoon they were headed to Kirkland Lake and Timmins to do an assessment and initiate relief efforts.
– With files from Kyle Gennings, Wayne Snider and Kevin Anderson