Lightning starts 81 fires in one day in NW Ontario, evacuations continue

Emergency responders conducted flights to evacuate remote Northwestern Ontario communities on Wednesday, a day after lightning strikes started 81 fires in the region.

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says there were a total of 166 active fires in Northwestern Ontario as of Wednesday evening. It said the fire hazard is high to extreme in the Red Lake, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout areas.

Emergency Management Ontario said Wednesday that people were being evacuated by plane from North Spirit Lake and Cat Lake First Nations. Officials had said that more than 2,600 people had already been evacuated from Pikangikum, Poplar Hill, and Deer Lake First Nations.

Thunder Bay and Dryden are among the locations serving as host communities for the evacuees.

What may be the region’s largest fire has burned 136,361 hectares (336,955 acres) along the Ontario-Manitoba border northwest of Kenora, in and near Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. CTV News reported that four First Nations communities in eastern Manitoba were being evacuated due to smoke and wildfires.

Closer to the U.S. border, a half-dozen fires remained active in Quetico Provincial Park as of Wednesday and have burned a combined 3,212 hectares (7,937 acres). Some have been considered active for more than a month.

Firefighters are working to contain the flames from the ground and the air. Ontario firefighters are getting help from firefighters from five other provinces, Wisconsin, and Mexico.

In addition to the evacuations, officials have also restricted access to some roads and government lands, and numerous advisories have been issued for smoke along highways.

Year-to-date, Ontario has seen 759 wildfires, compared with 421 last year and a ten-year average of 472.