Thunder Bay

Rain forecast brings hope to forest fire suppression efforts in northwestern Ontario

Rain is expected in some parts of northwestern Ontario, including this weekend, offering hope to crews fighting forest fires that have plagued the region for weeks.

118 forest fires burning in the region as of noon ET Thursday: AFFES

Kenora 51 has been threatening Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, leading the community to begin evacuating vulnerable residents. Rain is expected in parts of northwestern Ontario, offering hope in the fight against forest fires. (Ontario Forest Fires/Twitter)

Rain is expected in some parts of northwestern Ontario, including this weekend, offering hope to crews fighting forest fires that have plagued the region for weeks.

However, Environment Canada said Thursday, rainfall would likely also include thunderstorms in some areas, which could cause more fire starts.

Steven Flisfeder, a warning preparedness meteorologist with the agency, said rain is expected to begin later Thursday.

"There's a low-pressure system that's going to be kind of moving right along the Minnesota border towards Lake Superior, and that's going to be giving some shower activity with the risk of thunderstorms as well," he said, adding there could be 10 to 15 millimetres in most areas.

"But anywhere that gets the thunderstorm activity could see some local amounts, probably closer to 30 or 40 millimetres."

Rain is expected overnight Thursday, and conditions should clear by Friday at about noon ET, he said. However, more rain could come overnight Friday, and again on Sunday, in areas closer to Lake Superior.

Temperatures will cool a bit over the weekend too, Flisfeder said, reaching about 23 to 25 C in most areas, and high teens to low 20s in the Red Lake area.

Temperatures will warm slightly on Saturday, especially in areas close to the Manitoba border, where daytime highs will reach about 26 or 27 C, he said.

The lightning is always something to keep in mind. Any lightning strikes could spark up some more wildfires, unfortunately.- Steven Flisfeder, Environment Canada

Manitoba's fires have led to smoke drifting into northwestern Ontario, with smoke in both regions leading to Environment Canada air quality alerts.

"The lightning is always something to keep in mind," Flisfeder said. "Any lightning strikes could spark up some more wildfires, unfortunately.

"But hopefully, that rainfall is going to be enough to suppress any new fires and hopefully help with the ongoing fires."

As of noon Thursday, 118 forest fires were burning in the northwest.

There are ongoing suppression efforts on some of the region's larger, more-established fires, including:

  • Kenora 51, north of Umfreville Lake, about 20 kilometres north of Wabaseemong, where partial evacuation of the community, focused on vulnerable residents, has begun. The fire is listed at about 197,800 hectares and not under control.
  • Red Lake 65, about 19,700 hectares and burning about six kilometres west of Poplar Hill First Nation. The community has been evacuated.
  • Red Lake 51, at about 52,000 hectares and located some 24 kilometres west of Deer Lake First Nation. The community has been evacuated.
  • Sioux Lookout 60, at about 1,480 hectares and burning about eight kilometres west of Cat Lake First Nation, where a partial evacuation has taken place.
  • Red Lake 77, about 33 kilometres west of Red Lake and at 27,900 hectares. The fire is not under control.

Rainfall 'encouraging' so far

Chris Marchand, a fire information officer with Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES), said areas of the Far North received "fairly encouraging" rainfall Thursday morning.

That included "23 millimetres in Poplar Hill on Red Lake 65, 15 millimetres in Deer Lake, another close to 20 millimetres at Cat Lake, as well as some good rainfall numbers in the vicinity of the town of Red Lake, near fires like Red Red Lake 16 and Red Lake 68," Marchand said.

"As that system moves south, we've already heard reports this morning of more rainfall taking place near Kenora 51. While this rain isn't enough to get us out of the underlying drought conditions ... it's yet another reprieve from the more intense fire behaviour."

Marchand said the rainfall will buy some time, and allow AFFES to get firefighters and equipment out into the region where they're needed.

Environment Canada's air quality statements remain in effect for the following areas:

  • Dryden.
  • Ignace.
  • Fort Frances.
  • Kenora.
  • Red Lake.
  • Ear Falls.
  • Pikangikum.
  • Sioux Lookout.

A restricted fire zone remains in effect in the Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden and Thunder Bay districts, and portions of the Sioux Lookout, Red Lake and Nipigon districts. Outdoor burning is prohibited in those areas.

The Ontario government earlier issued an emergency order for northwestern Ontario that allows it to take special measures "to ensure the safety of people and the protection of critical property."

The restrictions apply to certain industrial operations that have the potential to cause sparks and start fires. A complete list of affected operations is available on Ontario's forest fire information page.