Ontario forest fires: B.C. crews pull back as firefighters make 'excellent progress'

Crews battling a massive forest fire south of Sudbury, Ont., are making some progress against the 11,185-hectare blaze.

Evacuees from Georgian Bay community still waiting to return home

Ontario fire rangers work to extinguish forest fire Parry Sound 33, which has sparked evacuations along the Key, French and Pickerel Rivers, West of Highway 69, near French River Provincial Park. (Christine Rosche/Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

Crews are making steady progress against a massive forest fire south of Sudbury, Ont., but the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said the situation won't be considered under control until the blaze is completely surrounded by fire crews.

Ministry spokesperson Isabelle Chenard said crews are now working at containing the fire. Once it's been contained, the fire will be considered "being held," which should bring some relief to firefighters and residents in the area, she said. 

"Until that time… we won't be able to say for sure whether we've turned a corner," Chenard said.

"But certainly progress has been made and things look positive right now."

The 11,185-hectare fire, called Parry Sound 33, started two weeks ago. As of Friday it is approximately five kilometres from Highway 69, a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway.

The ministry said higher winds out of the southwest on Thursday tested the northeast perimeter, but "the hose lines held and kept the fire's spread in check."  

B.C. firefighters recalled

Crews battling the blaze will also have to make due without support from British Columbia. The ministry said that firefighters from B.C. have been recalled to help with the escalating situation there.

Chenard said the departing crews would be replaced by others from across the country.

"We are expecting 66 more people from out of province from areas like Quebec, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Northwest Territories," she said.

Wanting to go home

Despite the progress fighting Parry Sound 33, evacuees from Henvey Inlet First Nation are still waiting to return home.

Heavy smoke from the fire has forced the community to extend an evacuation order to Aug. 10.

Amanda Barbe and her eight-year-old daughter have been staying in a hotel in Sudbury for nearly two weeks.

Barbe said the evacuation has been especially hard on the children.      

"All the kids want to go home," she said.

"We have freedom at home that we don't have here. All of the kids are able to run in the yard and play, and you can't do that here. This is all new for us."

Barbe said not knowing when they'll go home has been the hardest challenge so far.

"I'm concerned we're going to be homeless and we might be living like this for awhile," she said.

"It's been really hard on the kids. It's been hard on the adults because we can't reassure them."

Henvey Inlet council first issued a state of emergency July 21. 

In a release from the council, Chief Wayne McQuabbie said his concern right now is neighbouring communities.

"We understand that fire crews are staving off the fire from jumping the Lower Pickerel River, and we're hoping it doesn't jump over where there is a higher density of residents and cottagers," McQuabbie said.

Council spokesperson Jennifer Pereira evacuees are currently staying at hotels in Parry Sound and Sudbury, although she is keeping the details about the number of families and their exact location out of the spotlight to protect their privacy.

But Pereira told CBC News that she's noticing peoples' increased frustrations after hearing the evacuation order will be extended. 

"It does mean being cooped up for another week," Pereira said. "Where in our community, everyone has the luxury of privacy and you know, home is going to be something that people will never take for granted."

Residents in some parts of the Municipality of Killarney are also still under an evacuation order, which doesn't include the village of Killarney.

Alban also remained under an evacuation alert.

Further north, rainfall has helped crews manage the Lady Evelyn fire, which currently measures 27,285 hectares and burns approximately 30 kilometres west of Temiskaming Shores.

With files from Christina Jung and Benjamin Aube


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