Not enough rain to stop fire starts in region

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

The northwestern Ontario region has been seeing some rains, but according to Chris Marchand, fire information officer with the Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services centre in Dryden, there is not enough to stop new fire starts.

“Whenever you have rainfall coming through an area it does typically buy you a day or two of lower fire behaviour, in which those fires tend to not expand in size or advance in any direction,” Marchand said. “The rain that we have been getting is not widespread. It’s falling in patches throughout the region, which creates quite highly variable hazard conditions.”

Marchand said while the rains kept a short-term lid on new fire starts, the persistent widespread drought-like conditions that are deep in the ground and plenty of lightning continued to add large numbers of new fires to their fire loads.

For several weeks running now, the firefighters have been trying to reduce the number of active fires in the region, Marchand said, adding that they are extinguishing about 10 to 20 new fires a day from the 20 to 80 daily new fires.

“Along with the rain, we had thousands of additional lightning strikes,” Marchand said. “Without really enough rain to address those drought conditions that are deep in the soil, we do expect to see another round of lightning fires to start emerging from the ground once areas dry out from the recent rains.”

On Thursday, the Fort Frances sector had 14 new fires. All but two of those are in a state of either being held or under control, Marchand said.

Marchand said the rains helped the Red Lake’s large fires. The 30 millimetres of rain received over the weekend helped keep fire behaviour down on the Red Lake 65 fire which is of concern to that community, approximately six kilometres to the northwest of Poplar Hill, Marchand added.

However, Red Lake continues to be on alert.

“There are several communities like Cat Lake, who also have fires of concern near them that they’ve had discussions with the Ministry of Solicitor General to explore [evacuations] if they need to,” Marchand said.

There are also 12 fires burning in Quetico, with the largest one being at 3,212 hectares, mostly situated down near the U.S. border.

Marchand said they have been receiving a lot of national and international help to put out the fires in the northwestern region.

“Ontario is welcoming assistance from 101 Mexican firefighters, two specialists from Quebec, 12 personnel from Nova Scotia, 18 from New Brunswick, 15 from Newfoundland, 28 personnel from Alberta and 20 from Australia, as well as a total of 199 firefighting personnel from outside the province,” Marchand added.

To date, the province has seen 1,018 fires, 843 of those were in northwestern Ontario. Total hectares burned from the fires in Ontario add up to 621,187. Hectares burned in northwestern Ontario are 614,749.