Forest fire update: Killarney cottagers 'calm, happy' as fire slows

A long-time councillor for the Municipality of Killarney says northern Ontario cottagers are breathing a sigh of relief as Parry Sound 33, a 7,651-hectare fire which has already forced the evacuation of Key Harbour and Henvey Inlet, has temporarily stopped spreading in the area.

Parry Sound 33 now at 7,651 hectares

This photo was taken over the Parry Sound 33 fire, which Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry officials say is burning a 7,207-hectare area. (Dan Leonard, AFFES Ignition/Response Specialist)

A long-time councillor for the Municipality of Killarney says northern Ontario cottagers are breathing a sigh of relief as Parry Sound 33, a 7,651-hectare fire which has already forced the evacuation of Key Harbour and Henvey Inlet, has temporarily stopped spreading in the area.

JIm Rook told CBC News that the situation in the area is "very stable now."

"The winds are light, and smoke doesn't seem to be too much of an issue, so we're pretty happy today," Rook said.

"Everybody, of course was concerned with the smoke yesterday, and rumours that Highway 69 was closing, but today everybody is calm."

Winds whipped up from the southwest Thursday, forcing firefighters to focus their efforts on the blaze's eastern flank, in efforts to keep it from advancing toward Highway 69, an important corridor between Sudbury and Toronto.

Hot, dry conditions have sparked forest fires across Ontario, with clusters of fires near Pembroke, North Bay, Parry Sound and Kenora.

An Alberta firefighter, Jerry Gadwa, died while supporting fire suppression efforts in Red Lake, Ont., near the border with Manitoba. 

Firefighters from across Canada, Mexico and the U.S. are helping beat back the fires.

Billowing smoke was a concern, with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry saying it received reports of smoke from as far away as Quebec.

Lisa Kivinen, a Sudbury resident and cottager in the Key River area, compared the firefighters battling Parry Sound 33 to an "orange army."

She said it's "nothing short of miraculous, how this can be so organized and technical."

Lisa Kivinen and Jennifer Kivinen are co-presidents of the Key River Area Association, which represents about 100 seasonal and permanent residents in northeastern Georgian Bay.

The MNRF issued an evacuation order for the Key River area on July 21. Lisa Kivinen said it's been a challenging time for those with ties to the area.

L-R Jennifer and Lisa Kivinen are co-presidents of the Key River Area Association. The area, which includes about 100 seasonal and permanent residents, was evacuated on July 21 due to wildfires. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"We're managing," she said. "Our hearts go out to all of the people affected by PS33. Our area, Key River area, has been impacted significantly. We have had cottagers that have lost buildings and beyond, and our heart goes out to those where the fire is still encroaching."

"But also, we're grateful. The support that we've had from the [Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry], the OPP, our volunteers, our business community, our community leaders, has been nothing short of a miracle."

Jennifer Kivinen said it's been difficult not knowing exactly what's happening in the Key River area, despite what she said is good communication from the ministry and OPP.

She said she's "nervous about what's going on down at the Key River. Unfortunately, we have been evacuated, so we don't know what's going on at this current time."

Many of the people with cottages in the area have long family ties to it, stretching back a century, in some cases.

"For all of us, with the Key River area, we have deep, deep personal connection," she said. "This is topography that's been painted in the Group of Seven. This is our little piece of heaven."

Jim Rook, councillor in the Municipality of Killarney, says people were calm and happy as smoke in the area subsided. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Strong desire to get back to normal

On Friday Rook sent an email to residents, promising a more "aggressive" approach in getting timelines from the ministry.

"Whilst those of you that know me understand my genial nature, I think at this meeting I will become a bit more aggressive to ascertain a timeline when we all can resume a normal Key or Pickerel or French River lifestyle," Rook stated in the email.

This morning's meeting eased tensions between cottagers and the ministry, he said.

"Part of the problem of course is interpretation," Rook said. "I interpret something different than they do."

"Like we have a local area here called Dave's Island, and they call it something else, but we got that all straightened out."

"They promised to give us more and quicker updates when available. So that's good."

Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller, far left, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, centre left, and Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Jeff Yurek, far right, speak with the head of the Incident Management Team for the forest fire known as Parry Sound 33. (Twitter/ fordnation)

Ford's visit an encouraging sign

Rook said he was also encouraged by Doug Ford's visit to the fire command centre in Britt, although the premier did not contact Rook directly. Rook said he didn't even know Ford was in the area.

"I've got my own problems," Rook said. "[Ford] can go do what he wants, I don't care."

"This fire is of great importance and the highest priority of the province at the moment in terms of forest fires," Rook said. "So that's good, I guess. Him showing up backs that up."

"But to be honest, I didn't know he was there."

Here is an updated list of fires from the ministry, as of Friday 11:59 p.m.

River Valley Fire Cluster

  • This cluster includes two fires; North Bay 62 and North Bay 42. Both fires are being held. North Bay 25 is being monitored to the west of the cluster, which is now under control at 200 hectares.
  • There are 135 people working on these fires including firefighters from Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Mexico. 
  • Crews made solid progress on all fires in the cluster today. Crews worked on the south side of North Bay 42, and continued to work the perimeter on North Bay 62 while other crews continued to recover equipment from the fire.
  • Some smoke was visible on North Bay 25 and crews worked to extinguish hot spots. 

Lady Evelyn Fire Cluster

  • The North Bay 72 fire remains at 27,579 hectares and is not yet under control. The fire was scanned from the air early in the morning. Infrared scanning identifies areas that are holding heat so fire rangers can walk the fire and extinguish the hot spots.
  • The incident management team assigned to this cluster continues to observe North Bay fires 18, 19, 46, 59 and 61. These fires will also be scanned using infrared technology in the coming days.

Pembroke Fire Cluster

  • Friday was a productive day on all fires in this cluster

Pembroke 5

  • This fire showed little to no activity today and is now being held at 37.5 hectares

Pembroke 6

  • Listed at 697 hectares and not under control, crews made good progress on the fire line today. Crews will be utilizing fire engines and water bladders to aid with water supply on the fire line.
  • This fire has 10 4-person crews and 20 Mexican firefighters working to contain it.

Pembroke 7:

  • This fire is being held at 72.5 hectares
  • There was very little fire activity Friday and crews will be utilizing infrared scanning in the days to come in order to find hot spot targets to extinguish.

Algonquin Park 11:

  • Crews are making good progress on this fire listed at 34.2 hectares and not under control.
  • Crews are utilizing larger sized hose (6.3 cm) to aid with water delivery on the fire line in very difficult terrain

Parry Sound 33

  • Parry Sound 33 Forest Fire is 7,297 hectares in size. Due to southwest winds, the northeast side is the most active part of the fire.
  • The northeast side of the fire is the focus for water bombers and helicopter bucketing as it is closest to the rail line and populated areas. There has been minimal growth on the southwest end of the fire.
  • The southwest winds are expected to continue tomorrow, possibly bringing heavy smoke conditions periodically into surrounding communities and along highway 69. The fire is approximately seven kilometres west of highway 69 and three kilometres south of the Pickerel River.
  • Aerial ignition on the northwest portion of the fire was a success and connected the fire's edge into Fox Lake and Fox Creek.
  • Wildfire crews continue to make excellent progress around the southwest side of the perimeter by laying hose lines and actively attacking hot spots on the Key Harbour. That area is protected nicely and MNRF does not expect any movement in that area over the next few days. At this time the fire is still classified as not being under control.