Some provincial parks in Temagami area closed due to forest fires could re-open soon

Crews continue to play their own version of whack-a-mole with blazes, particularly across the northeast region. As numerous fires in the Temagami and North Bay areas have come under control, new ones have popped up in the Cochrane district.

Number of forest fires in Ontario has nearly quadrupled compared to last year

The sun sets over the North Bay Fire Management Headquarters. (Tanya Kienapple/Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

Over 700 forest fires have been ignited in Ontario so far this year, compared to just 172 during all of 2017.

Crews continue to play their own version of whack-a-mole with the blazes, particularly across the northeast region. As numerous fires in the Temagami and North Bay areas have come under control, new ones have popped up in the Cochrane district.

Of note, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says crews are still working to control Cochrane 14, which measured around 400 hectares as of Thursday morning.

That fire is located near Tomorrow and Yesterday Lakes, which are about 100 km northwest of Cochrane.

"Where it had been previously quiet, the Cochrane sector now has 12 active forest fires," stated the MNRF. "Five are being observed to allow the natural benefits of fire on the landscape, there are no values threatened in the area of these fires."

This aerial photo of forest fire North Bay 72 — an 11,500-hectare blaze crews continue to battle in Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park — was captured by Damon Hibbard of Ontario's Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services. (Damon Hibbard/Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

In total, there are still 66 fires burning in the northeast, with around 28 not under control.

More resources were called in to help Thursday, including an eight-person fire crew from Wisconsin, and extra staff from Newfoundland and Saskatchewan.

The average annual number of forest fires in Ontario over the past 10 years is 435.

Dry with no relief

The very high numbers of fires so far in 2018 is attributable to a hot, dry summer, says Shayne McCool of the MNRF, combined with scattered storms which have brought a steady stream of lightning strikes.

 Over 130,000 hectares of forest have been burned this year already. Last year's 172 fires scorched about 63,000 hectares.

"A lot of years we have fires in the far north we allow to burn for ecological purposes," explained McCool.

"Those fires tend to chew up a lot of those hectares burned. But this year, we only have three of them right now in the far north that are being allowed to burn, and they're not overly large either [...] so it gives you some indication."

Optimistic outlook for parks

While many provincial parks continue to uphold fire bans for campers, seven parks around Temagami remain closed.

They are Marten River, Finlayson Point, Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater, Obabika River, Sturgeon River, Makobe-Grays and Solace Provincial Parks.

Kevin Pinkerton is the superintendent for provincial parks in the Temagami area. (Supplied/Kevin Pinkerton)

That has put a big dent for small businesses in the area that rely heavily on a normally consistent stream of seasonal tourists and campers.

With fires that threatened Temagami earlier this month no longer a concern, the region's park superintendent, Kevin Pinkerton, says he's optimistic two of the most popular ones — Marten River and Finlayson Point — will be re-opened shortly.

"I want to be very confident before we invite folks back to Temagami that their safety is assured and we're not putting anybody at risk," says Pinkerton.

"Optimistically, all I can say is it should be soon, but the landscape in Temagami is very dry right now, it's one of the higher points in Ontario and it is susceptible to lightning strikes."

The story is different at Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater, he said, where crews continue to battle a 11,500-hectare fire (North Bay 72) that was started by lightning on July 8.