Northern Ontario has seen almost twice as many wildfires this year, with drought to blame – Toronto Star

Smoke rises from the Kenora 51 forest fire in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario, near the Manitoba border on July 15. This year, Ontario has recorded more than 900 wildfires.

By Kristin RushowyQueen’s Park Bureau

Mon., July 26, 20212 min. read

Northern Ontario has seen almost double the number of wildfires this year compared to the 10-year average — with officials blaming drought and lightning.

So far this year, the province has recorded more than 900 wildfires, which is almost double the average of 520. Some 520,000 hectares have burned to date.

The province also says 600 wildland firefighters are battling the blaze, and some 140 fire personnel from other provinces and countries — including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Mexico — are here helping.

Premier Doug Ford is set to visit the command centre in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

“We’re throwing every single resource we have up there. And I want to thank the federal government for putting resources as well,” Ford said Monday when asked about the fires during an unrelated event in Ottawa.

“But anything they need, they’re going to get, I will spare no expense and we’ll make sure that the resources will always continue until we get these fires under (control).”

A number of First Nation communities and the NDP have been calling for the province to declare a state of emergency.

MPP Judith Monteith-Farrell, who represents Thunder Bay-Atikokan, called the situation severe and “ever-changing.”

“The number of fires and the number of ones that are under control can change hourly,” said Monteith-Farrell, her party’s critic for natural resources, forestry and mines.

“It is an urgent situation where we have close to 150 active fires and a good number of those are not under control. We have heavy smoke and we have communities being evacuated, and also people who have left their homes.”

The provinces estimates about 3,000 people have been evacuated from First Nation communities — including Poplar Hill and Deer Lake, as well as some vulnerable residents of Pikangikum First Nation.

She said the state of emergency is necessary “because it really cuts down the red tape — you are able to react far quicker, can call on resources from other ministries and different areas, you can make decisions and in this kind of situation, that’s important.”

The province, however, has said the situation is not as intense or severe as it needs to be in order to declare a state of emergency.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Greg Rickford, minister of natural resources and forestry, said in a joint statement that “all requests for evacuations have been facilitated by the province, and more than 600 wildland firefighters continue their efforts to contain and suppress the fires in the northwest, utilizing all available land and aerial equipment to protect people and property.”

“As this year’s wildfire season continues, we continue to support communities in the north, and remain ready to provide all necessary additional support as required. We are working closely with the federal government, which is responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of First Nation communities on-reserve,” it said.