Thunder Bay

Greenstone under a state of emergency due to forest fires

Forest fires continue to blaze across northwestern Ontario, causing one of the region's largest communities to stay on high alert.

Forest fires lead to power outages, natural gas shut-offs

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has brought in water bombers to help battle the fires in northwestern Ontario. (Courtesy: Stephen Wilson)

Forest fires continue to blaze across northwestern Ontario, causing one of the region's largest communities to stay on high alert.

A state of emergency was declared as a precaution late yesterday in Greenstone, which located about 260 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

At one point, flames were less than 500 metres from the municipal building in Geraldton, which is part of Greenstone.

At one point flames from a forest fire were less than 500 metres from the municipal building in Geraldton — but water bombers saved it. (Stephen Wilson)

"[The water bombers] saved us because otherwise the municipal office would have burned," said Renald Beaulieu, mayor of Greenstone.

"I was out on site this morning and at one of the residences, the fire stopped right where the grass is growing [behind] their home. So, it's just amazing ... the work that was done by the MNR, [and] by our local fire crews." 

Greenstone is an amalgamation of Geraldton, Longlac, Nakina and Beardmore, as well as an extensive area of unincorporated territory, including settlement areas like Caramat, Jellicoe and MacDiarmid.  First Nation communities within Greenstone municipal boundaries are Long Lake 58, Lake Nipigon Ojibway, Rocky Bay and Sand Point.

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Dean Burke, who lives in Geraldton, witnessed the water bombers swooping in.

"We had three [ministry] water bombers that were circling around town. They'd drop down into Kenogamisis Lake just in front of the municipal building, pick up their load of water, and then fly very, very low over the No Frills area and they were dropping it right behind there," Burke said.

"If you were standing on Main Street there were some opportunities where, when they were dropping water, you could feel droplets coming toward you. That's how close it was."

Beaulieu also saw evidence at the Geraldton airport how close the blaze came to vital structures.

"The airport, the fire crossed the runway and the fire kind of burnt on each side of the runway, but all structures are in place," he said.

A major forest fire is still burning near the Geraldton area this morning. Dean Burke lives there, and he describes what it's like.

Natural gas turned off

Burke — who is the vice principal at Our Lady of Fatima School in Longlac — drove Hwy 11 Tuesday morning from Geraldton to Longlac. He told CBC News the area is still very smoky,

Burke said he was told all schools in the Greenstone area are open today, but it may be difficult for some staff and students to get there, as Hwy 584 is still closed north of Geraldton.

A state of emergency was declared as a precaution due to forest fires late yesterday in Greenstone. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry brought in several water bombers to fight the fires. (Stephen Wilson)

Beaulieu said the natural gas for the town of Geraldton has been shut off as a precaution, and it could take a few days for it to be restored to all customers.

"They'll be sending something like 20 people up here to start turning off gas, then turning it back on. One of the priorities will be our hospital, because they also operate on natural gas."

Residents in the Macintosh Rd. and White Wolf Lodge areas north of Geraldton were under an evacuation order with residents told not to return to their homes Monday night, according to a post from the Greenstone Fire Department.

The fires have also led to some power outages, according to Hydro One. More than 600 customers are without power in areas around Hornepayne, Pic River, Pic Mobert and White River.

Highway 17 re-opened last night between White River and Rous Lake, however Highway 584 to Geraldton remains closed. Highway 11, between Hearst and Longlac, was closed for several hours, but opened just before 1 p.m. on Tuesday, OPP said.

Beaulieu said he's proud of the work of volunteer firefighters from Nakina, Longlac, Geraldton, Beardmore, who have been helping to fight the blaze. Ironically, crews had a training exercise last week, so emergency plans were fresh in the minds of all, he said.

So far, the winds seem to have died down, Beaulieu told CBC News, and he remains hopeful they do not shift later today.

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With files from RDI