Crews continue to battle Parry Sound 33 forest fire

Work continues to battle dozens of forest fires across northeastern Ontario as crews deal with a dry, windy day.

Smoke causing air quality problems

A water bomber flies over Parry Sound 33, one of the most aggressive fires crews are fighting in northern Ontario. (Submitted by JJ Whitmell)

Work continues to battle dozens of forest fires across northeastern Ontario as crews deal with a dry, windy day.

According to the province's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, there are 39 active fires burning across the region, including Parry Sound 33 which has grown to 8,973 hectares. The ministry says 14 of those fires are not under control.

The ministry says Parry Sound 33 is inching closer to the Trans-Canada highway, which remains open to drivers.

"At this point, we're about six kilometres from Highway 69," Shayne McCool, the ministry's fire information officer said.

"We are continuously assessing the situation. We're using air attack as a main resource … to try and slow its spread."

Jonathan Britton is an air ambulance paramedic who caught a bird's eye view of the fire 3:30

The ministry said that water bombers continued to attack the east flank of the fire amid high winds over the weekend.

Both Henvey Inlet and Key Harbour are still under evacuation orders.

Lady Evelyn

The Lady Evelyn fire cluster in the Temiskaming region remains the largest in the northeast and is still out of control.

Although the ministry said it was reduced by a few hundred hectares on Sunday, Lady Evelyn is still at about 27,000 hectares — and, with relatively dry conditions, may worsen over the next few days. Another group of Mexican firefighters has arrived to help fight it, according to the ministry.

The fire is about 11 kilometres south of the town of Elk Lake, which about 500 people call home.

Reeve Terry Fiset lobbied the government to allow private contractors to build a fire break in the bush to help protect the town.

"Everything else was burning at that time and I don't think they figured it would have taken off from that distance and that fast a time frame," he said.

"But Lady Evelyn Park, I mean it's got some tall white pines, older stuff and about a hundred year old fuel for it in the bottom. So when it lights up, it is a powder keg that can go and evidently, that's what it did."

He blames the lack of attention paid to his area on cuts to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

"One guy said to us it would be like, you have two fire trucks in town and you have three house fires going at the same time, what do you do? And how do you split your resources up?" he said.

A road sign outside Henvey Inlet First Nation, south of Sudbury, Ont., lets drivers know about the smoky conditions on the road. Dozens of forest fires are plaguing areas of Ontario. (markjsolomon2696/Instagram)

"It was so much so quick. I think with some of the gutting governments have done to agencies, MNR being one of them, that there just wasn't the staffing readily available," he said.

Fiset said so far crews have cleared a fire break of 12 kilometres south of Elk Lake and have another three kilometres to go.

He said anxiety in the town has died down, but adds few weeks ago nerves were frayed when smoke was so thick in Elk Lake that streetlights came on in the middle of the day.

Air quality concerns

Environment Canada warns that due to the ongoing fires, air quality could be compromised in the following areas today:

  • Espanola, Killarney.
  • North Bay, Powassan, Mattawa.
  • West Nipissing, French River.
  • Bayfield Inlet, Dunchurch.

In a statement on its website, Environment Canada said visibilities "are expected to be poor in some areas early this morning as the smoke helps the formation of fog, or smog. Conditions will rapidly improve later this morning as the air mass becomes better mixed.

"These higher pollution levels are expected to persist today and possibly the next few days ...  [and] individuals may experience symptoms such as increased coughing, throat irritation, headaches or shortness of breath. Children, seniors, and those with cardiovascular or lung disease, such as asthma, are especially at risk."

With files from Erik White, Chris Ensing and Jessica Pope

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