What you need to know about the Civic long weekend and Parry Sound 33

If you're considering travelling in northeastern Ontario this long weekend here's what you need to know when it comes to forest fires.

Travel, camping still possible despite forest fire situation in Northeast, ministry says

CBC listener Samantha Kavanaugh took this picture of the French River in Alban, Ont., this week. The smokey haze from the Parry Sound 33 forest fire is expected to hang around for the long weekend. (Samantha Kavanaugh)

The Civic long weekend is usually a time to kick back, relax and soak in the best of summer.

However this year may be a little different in northeastern Ontario due to the forest fire situation, particularly with Parry Sound 33 still not under control. That fire in the Key River area is about 80 kilometres south of Sudbury and 80 kilometres north of the town of Parry Sound.

The fire situation has lots of potential visitors asking questions, and wondering whether it's safe for them to follow through with their holiday plans.

Highway Closures

Heavy smoke continues to be a problem along Highway 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury.

That hazy air is expected to remain throughout the weekend and if it gets worse it could mean a change in the roadway's status.

"In that case the OPP will decide on the public safety, whether or not to close the highway," said Bill Cole, with the aviation, forest fire and emergency services section of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Any changes to the highway's status will be announced, and posted on the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) website.

Air Quality

Environment Canada has issued air quality alerts for several communities throughout the northeast, particularly those closest to the Parry Sound 33 fire: French River and Killarney.

The team will try to keep residents and visitors in the region updated on air quality conditions, says Environment Canada meteorologist Gerald Cheng.

"The challenge in predicting air quality around the area is that the [weather] station might not even pick up on the smoke, because the smoke is so local. But looking at satellite, looking at the winds we try our best to warn people that there is poor air quality out there this weekend."
An aerial view of of the Parry Sound 33 wildfire this week. (Matt Bell/Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

When it comes to the weather forecast, Cheng says fire crews are unlikely to get much help from mother nature this weekend.

He says there may be some showers on Friday, but those won't provide much relief to the fire situation because not much accumulation is predicted.

"Saturday and Sunday, I'm seeing more fair and dry weather coming back in as well. It's going to warm up, especially heading into Sunday. The humidex will also rise to the mid-30s (Celsius) around the region, so that's something to watch for," Cheng said.

He added that a chance of showers is forecasted for Monday, but that's not a guarantee of rain.

Camping still an option

The August long weekend is normally a time when provincial parks in northeastern Ontario are at their busiest.

Despite the forest fires burning in parts of the region, Anne Craig, with Ontario Parks, says she expects provincial parks to be busy this weekend.

There are a few closures: Grundy Lake Provincial Park, the west portion of the French River Provincial Park (to the west of Highway 69), and a handful of back country parks north of Temagami, are closed due to forest fires.

"But otherwise, the parks are open and we hope people enjoy a wonderful long weekend," Craig said.
Anne Craig says she hopes Ontario Parks will be busy, despite fire bans and concerns about nearby forest fires. (Ontario Parks )

She said they had to contact campers who had reservations for this weekend at Grundy Lake provincial park.

"People are very understanding with what's going on."

"As much as possible we've made provisions for them to be able to visit another nearby park. So I don't think anyone's vacation or long weekend hopefully has been too disrupted by this," she said.

However, conditions are dry across most of northeastern Ontario, so many municipalities and provincial parks have fire bans in place. 

This means if you're camping at a park that has a ban it means no roasting marshmallows or hot dogs over the campfire. It also means no charcoal barbecues, biomass units or other outdoor propane fire pits.

But Craig says camping is is much more that a campfire.

"We hope there's lots of other ways people can enjoy parks, whether it's hiking, swimming. This year is our 125th anniversary, so we have a number of special events going on at parks, so I hope there's lots of other things people will enjoy at parks."

Any potential camper heading to a park with a fire ban in place will have to figure out how they plan to cook their meals without a campfire.

"They can use a portable gas or propane stove, as long as it has a shut off control valve and it's intended for cooking," Craig said.

For details on park conditions and what bans may be in place for specific parks visit ontarioparks.com/alerts.

Evacuated for long weekend

Unfortunately, the hundreds of residents from Henvey Inlet First Nation and parts of the municipality of Killarney won't be able to enjoy the long weekend at home.

About 175 people were evacuated from Henvey Inlet on July 21, while residents in some parts of the municipality of Killarney, were forced from their homes July 30.

Those evacuation orders remain in place.

When asked how much longer those evacuations would be in place, Chris Pittens, with the office of the Ontario fire marshall said, "It's really challenging to try and put a finger on that at this point." 

It will depend on the fire situation at Key River.

The MNRF's top priority is public safety. Cole says that as long as the fire conditions warrant the ministry will advise what the risks and hazards are.

"The district office will continue to advise the local community leaders and emergency management coordinators, and then it's up to the municipality or the First Nation to make a specific decision on their municipal or First Nation evacuation order."

With files from Benjamin Aubé