Smoke Signals

     Anyone out camping in the Boundary Waters or Quetico Park yesterday wouldn’t have had much luck sending up smoke signals.  It was a hot and smoky day on the Gunflint Trail and many other places including the UP of Michigan.  There are numerous large forest fires burning in Ontario and Manitoba and more starting each day.

     Luckily there aren’t any big fires burning in the Boundary Waters right now or on the Gunflint Trail.  We’re hoping to get some rain for the thirsty blueberries just starting to ripen.  There are no fire bans yet but as always we urge everyone to use caution with fire and always make sure your fire is dead out.

Forest fires ravage Northern Ontario  ADRIAN MORROW AND ANITA ELASH  From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail  Published Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2011 4:37PM EDT

More than 100 forest fires raged in Northern Ontario Tuesday, forcing evacuations and knocking out power to remote communities, in one of the province’s most intense fire seasons in a decade.

The flames were concentrated in a swath about 250 kilometres wide, from the Manitoba border to roughly 100 kilometres east of Thunder Bay, the area’s largest city. A handful of conflagrations burned in other areas, including near Sudbury and along Hudson Bay.

While thunderstorms blowing in from the Prairies were expected to bring rain to the area overnight and into Wednesday, they will also bring winds and lightning that could help the flames spread and lead to new fires.

In some towns, a heavy haze of smoke hung in the air.

Roughly 285,000 hectares of woodland, an area more than four times the size of Toronto, were ablaze. More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from the area over the past few days, most of them residents of first nations communities and mining camps.

The province, meanwhile, has restricted the use of campfires in the northwest and ordered a stop to travel on roads and waterways around some fires.

Provincial firefighters, alongside local crews and reinforcements from British Columbia, attacked the flames from the air with helicopters and water bombers. All told, about 2,000 people were involved in trying to being the fires under control.

This year’s fires are an exponential increase in size over the 14,239 hectares that burned in 2010.

In Thunder Bay, Mayor Keith Hobbs was bracing for an influx of thousands of evacuees.

“There is some urgency here,” he said. “If the wind keeps up, it will fan the flames and the situation will get worse.”

He said as many as 7,000 people could be moved as the fires encroach on aboriginal communities.

The mayor said he has asked the provincial government to declare a state of emergency to help co-ordinate the evacuations and move people to other parts of Ontario.

Mr. Hobbs said Thunder Bay, which has received at least 300 people displaced by the fires, has been designated a transportation hub for the evacuees and has set up emergency medical services. But the mayor cautioned that the city does not have the resources to look after the thousands that could eventually move there.

Evacuees are staying at a local hotel and space is running out. Mr. Hobbs said the city could also house some people in schools, but the facilities aren’t ideally equipped.

“We don’t want to end up with a tent city here,” he said.

Federal Treasury Board President Tony Clement, MP for Muskoka and cabinet minister responsible for regional development agency FedNor, is scheduled to fly to Dryden, 350 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, to meet with volunteers and evacuees early Wednesday morning.