40 new forest fires confirmed in northwestern Ontario on Wednesday
There are a total of 91 fires burning in region, as of Thursday morning
Forty new forest fires broke out in northwestern Ontario on Wednesday, the province's Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) agency said.
AFFES initially reported 29 new fires on Wednesday, noting that more reports had been received, but had not yet been investigated.
On Thursday, the agency provided an update, confirming the total of 40 new fires started the day prior. It's the second-highest single-day new fire total so far this year, AFFES said — 46 new fires were confirmed on June 5.
AFFES fire information officer Chris Marchand said lightning, along with minimal rainfall, caused many of the fires confirmed on Wednesday.
"We've had such a long stretch of really dry weather ... with the high winds at times," Marchand said. "That creates those really escalated fire hazard conditions, and extreme fire behavior like we're seeing in the western part of the region."
"These drought-like conditions, they make the suppression effort difficult in terms of the fires," he said. "They burn deep into the ground, as deep as 45 centimetres."
"That lengthens the amount of time it takes to extinguish the fire and the amount of effort and resources that have to be allocated to each of these incidents."
According to the province's interactive forest fire map, there were 91 fires burning in the region as of Thursday morning; 26 of those were located in the Red Lake district.
AFFES said Kenora 51, which is burning in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park and is not under control, has grown to more than 85,500 hectares. Fire crews are maintaining sprinklers on structures in the fire's vicinity.
Red Lake 65 remains not under control at nearly 12,000 hectares. The fire is burning about 10 kilometres west of Poplar Hill First Nation, and led to the evacuation of the community in recent days. Crews are maintaining sprinklers on structures in the vicinity of the fire, AFFES said.
Red Lake 51 is listed as being observed at more than 45,700 hectares. The fire is burning about 27 kilometres west of Deer Lake First Nation, where a partial evacuation of the vulnerable residents in the community has been underway since Monday.
Red Lake hospital transferring patients
Red Lake 68 is not under control at more than 21,000 hectares, and is located southeast of Pringle Lake, about 55 kilometres northeast of Red Lake. Six crews are assigned to that fire, AFFES said.
Red Lake 77 is not under control at more than 19,000 hectares, and is located about 36 kilometres west of Red Lake. Crews are setting up sprinklers to protect infrastructure, AFFES said.
In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital president and CEO Sue LeBeau said patients are being transferred to other northwestern Ontario hospitals as a precaution.
"Our decision to start patient transfers now is driven by multiple factors, including continued forecasts of hot dry weather, concerning wind conditions, speed of fire movement, and the time required to move multiple patients by air from our remote community," LeBeau said in the statement. "It can take a few days to locate beds and secure transportation.
"We are taking the time we have to plan the safest transfers possible for our patients."
Emergency order issued for region
A restricted fire zone is in effect for the Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden and Thunder Bay districts, and portions of the Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Nipigon and Wawa districts. No outdoor burning is allowed in those areas.
On Wednesday, the province issued an emergency order for northwestern Ontario due to forest fire activity.
The order allows the province to take special measures, such as implementing travel or access restrictions, "to ensure the safety of people and the protection of critical property."
The province has not yet announced any specific measures for the northwest.