New forest fires in northwestern Ontario hit single-day high amid evacuations
81 new fires confirmed Tuesday, largely due to lightning strikes
A single-day high for new forest fires in northwestern Ontario this year has seen 81 confirmed, nearly doubling the previous record 2021 total recorded earlier, as evacuations from First Nations and other communities continue.
Forty-six fires were reported June 5, the most recorded on one day at the time, said Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES).
The agency initially announced 71 new fires had broken out in the region on Tuesday.
However, Fire Information Officer Jonathan Scott said Wednesday some reports had yet to be confirmed at the time of the earlier release.
"When there's heavy smoke in the region, there's issues with flying and visibility, so that can hamper finding fires"
He said most of the new fires were caused by lightning strikes over the last few days.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 167 fires in northwestern Ontario, with 57 of them in the Red Lake district. AFFES told CBC News the fires are burning a total of 486,958 hectares.
Fires of note include:
- Red Lake 65, at about 16,000 hectares, six kilometres northwest of Poplar Hill First Nation; the community has been evacuated. AFFES said rainfall on Monday slowed fire behaviour, but smoke continues to hamper aerial suppression efforts along the fire's eastern ridge.
- Red Lake 51, about 24 kilometres west of Deer Lake First Nation; the community has been evacuated. AFFES said the fire is about 48,700 hectares. Monday rainfall reduced fire behaviour, and fire crews are working to protect Deer Lake and critical infrastructure.
- Red Lake 77, not under control, at about 23,400 hectares, and is about 28 kilometres northwest of the Red Lake community of Madsen. AFFES said the fire has not moved significantly closer to Madsen in recent days.
- Kenora 51 is not under control at 114,300 hectares, and has been active the past several days, producing local smoke. The fire is burning inside Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, near the Manitoba border.
On Tuesday, the province announced it was co-ordinating partial evacuations of Cat Lake and North Spirit Lake First Nations. The evacuations were expected to begin on Wednesday.
The wildfire hazard remains high to extreme in the southern parts of the Nipigon and Thunder Bay districts, and portions of the Red Lake, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout districts.
Air quality statements issued
The rest of the region has a low to moderate hazard, following scattered rain, AFFES said.
Scott said the weather forecast for the region includes good news for fire suppression efforts.
"There's a chance of more unsettled weather moving through the region," he said. "There should be rain cloud cover, reduced temperatures, lower wind speeds and higher relative humidity values.
"That should reduce fire behaviour."
However, Scott added, lightning remains a concern in the forecast, which could lead to more starts.
Smoke drift is also a concern, not only in communities with fires burning nearby, but also across Ontario's Far North, AFFES said. In addition, smoke from fires in Western Canada will be detectable across Ontario on Wednesday.
Environment Canada issued air quality statements due to forest fire smoke for the Atikokan, Dryden, Ignace, Fort Frances, Kenora, Red Lake, Pikangikum, and Sioux Lookout areas on Wednesday.
A restricted fire zone remains in effect in the Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden and Thunder Bay districts, and portions of the Sioux Lookout, Red Lake and Nipigon districts. Outdoor burning is prohibited in those areas.
Last week, the province issued an emergency order for northwestern Ontario, which allows Ontario to take special measures "to ensure the safety of people and the protection of critical property."
On Tuesday, the province announced it's implementing new restrictions on certain mining, rail, construction and transportation operations that have the potential to cause sparks and start fires.
The new restrictions, which come into effect Wednesday and fall under the emergency order, apply to certain specific drilling operations, using heavy machinery with rubber tires and no chains, and rail production grinding, in the region.
It marks the second time the province has announced restrictions for the northwest under the emergency order. On Monday, it moved forward with new restrictions on the use of mechanized equipment and power saws to harvest or process wood, as well as welding, torching and grinding.
The restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
The province's forest fire web page says there have been 759 fires in Ontario this year, up from 421 during the same time period last year. The 10-year average for fires to date in the province is 472.