Air Quality Concerns Rise Due to Smoke from 166 Forest Fires in Northwestern Ontario

Air quality statements have been issued for parts of northwestern Ontario where more than 160 fires were burning Thursday morning.

Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) said the fire hazard remains high to extreme in the eastern parts of the region, as well as areas of the Red Lake, Dryden and Sioux Lookout districts, but it is low to moderate in the southwestern parts of the region and the Far North.

Recent rainfall has slowed some of the larger fires, including Red Lake 65, which is about seven kilometres northwest of Poplar Hill First Nation, one of the communities that have been evacuated.

The rainfall has helped Red Lake 51 fire suppression efforts, AFFES said. It’s about 51,000 hectares in size and burning 24 kilometres west of Deer Lake First Nation, which has also been evacuated.

AFFES said drier and warmer conditions are expected to return this week in the areas of both of those fires, likely leading to more active fire behaviour.

Elsewhere in the region, Sioux Lookout 60 is about 850 hectares and is eight kilometres west of Cat Lake First Nation, which is being partially evacuated.

Red Lake 77, listed as being about 23,000 hectares on Thursday morning, is some 28 kilometres northwest of Madsen and 33 kilometres west of Red Lake, although AFFES said the fire has not moved “significantly” closer to the community in recent days.

Kenora 51 continues to burn in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, and is at about 136,000 hectares and not under control.

Environment Canada issued air quality statements due to smoke for the Atikokan, Dryden, Ignace, Fort Frances, Kenora, Red Lake, Pikangikum and Sioux Lookout areas on Thursday.

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.

Last week, the province issued an emergency order for northwestern Ontario, which allows Ontario to take special measures “to ensure the safety of people and the protection of critical property.”

Earlier this week, the province announced it’s implementing new restrictions on certain mining, rail, construction and transportation operations that have the potential to cause sparks and start fires; the restrictions apply to certain specific drilling operations, using heavy machinery with rubber tires and no chains, and rail production grinding, in the region.

It marks the second time the province has announced restrictions for the northwest under the emergency order. On Monday, the province announced restrictions on the use of mechanized equipment and power saws to harvest or process wood, as well as welding, torching and grinding.

The restrictions will remain in place until further notice.

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