Smoke from nearby forest fires has forced roughly 1,500 people to flee remote northwestern Ontario communities in recent days, the province's Ministry of Natural Resources says.

There were roughly 100 active fires Tuesday in northwestern Ontario, with more expected in coming days.

The ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the 2011 fire season is "proving to be one of the busiest seasons in over a decade." 

Canadian Forces personnel were using Hercules aircraft to help move people out of Keewaywin First Nation — a community about 570 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. The military has also helped evacuate people from Fort Hope and Sandy Lake.

Keewaywin AirportKeewaywin First Nation


Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy, who represents a group of affected communities that are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest road, said evacuations are moving too slowly.

"It's so important that those people have to be evacuated right away, immediately, before the smoke covers the whole village [and] aircrafts might not be able to get in."

About a dozen communities are moving out their most vulnerable residents  — sick and elderly, young children and expectant mothers — because of the smoke. Thousands of people in total are expected to be moved.

Volunteers at an evacuation centre in Thunder Bay worked until the early hours of Tuesday morning helping about 250 residents from Sandy Lake First Nation settle into their temporary home.

Joseph Kakegamic said he was relieved  to be away from the fires burning near his home.

"The rooms are good, the food is good and it's a nice hotel," he said from Thunder Bay.

Smoke hampers firefighting

The smoke is causing problems for firefighters, too. Water bombers could not hit their targets because of low visibility and spotter planes were grounded, meaning crews could not map where the fires are going.


Fire technician John Mash briefs incoming B.C. firefighters on their assignment in the district of Kenora, Ont. ((Ministry of Natural Resources))

Hydro poles that have been destroyed can't be replaced because of the smoke.

The forest fire hazard remains extremely high in Ontario and the relatively low number of fires in recent summers means the boreal forest is full of dead wood that is adding fuel to the flames — one fire grew from 10,000 to 70,000 hectares in a day.

More than 2,000 Ontario firefighters are being joined by roughly 500 B.C. reinforcements, and Saskatchewan said it has dispatched 25 experienced firefighters who will arrive Tuesday and stay for at least two weeks.

Two additional water bombers are being sent from Newfoundland and Labrador.

With files from CBC's Jody Porter and The Canadian Press