Fire Fighting in Canada

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Weather change helps fire crews in Timmins

May 26, 2012, Timmins, Ont. _ Emergency officials in northern Ontario say the powerful winds that have fanned the flames of fierce wildfires and pushed smoke and ash toward Timmins have calmed down.

May 26, 2012
By The Canadian Press

Officials with the Ministry of Natural Resources say the change
in weather is helping firefighting efforts, previously hampered by
strong gusts that limited the use of water bombers.

Meanwhile, an evacuation order for the lakeside community of
Kamiskotia on the outskirts of Timmins was lifted Friday night as a
heavy haze that blanketed the area suddenly cleared.

The ministry says roughly 300 people have been allowed back into
their homes, but all other evacuation orders remain in effect and
the city is still under a state of emergency.

Some 800 have been forced to flee cottages, campgrounds and camps
in rural areas surrounding the city of 43,000 since the fires began
on Sunday.

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An evacuation order issued earlier this week saw 118 residents
from the nearby Mattagami First Nation relocate to Kapuskasing.

Provincial police say they are tracking the blaze and its fumes,
ready to clear out any homes in the path of danger.

Officials aren't the only ones on high alert. Even as conditions
seemed to improve Saturday, residents said the situation has them on
edge.

"Everybody's worried because we've got our life over there,''
said Eric Germain, who watched emergency crews from the fringes of
the evacuation zone.

Germain said he and his family were told to leave their camp just
west of the city on Sunday. Since then, the flames have also shut
down the gold mine where he works.

So far, he said, there hasn't been any damage to his property,
but a friend lost several pieces of heavy equipment to the blaze.

Others seemed hopeful the tide was turning in their favour.

Daniel Geoffroy returned to his home in Kamiskotia late Friday
and noticed a significant improvement.

"Tuesday night, the smoke was really, really bad,'' he said.
"It smelled like if you're near a dump and they're doing a burn, it
smelled like that. It didn't smell like a nice bush fire.''

"The skies were a really, really nasty, colour. The sun was like
a red ball… It was eerie,'' he said. "I think if the wind had
kept going… in the same direction, I think we would be having more
problems.''

The winds have impeded efforts to douse the fire about 30
kilometres outside Timmins and even caused a new one to flare up
Friday, though it has since largely been contained.

A fire ranger dispatched to battle the blaze described 17-hour
days grappling with flames "big enough to eat trees in a gulp.''

The ministry estimated the size of the Timmins fire at about
41,210 hectares Saturday, up from 31,660 the day before.

Provincial police said officers were prepared to perform more
evacuations "as needed.''

"Our primary focus is on security of persons who have chosen or
by accident are ignoring the order to evacuate the area,'' said
provincial police spokesman Marc Depatie.

Smoke from the Timmins fire was blowing toward Kirkland Lake,
about 140 kilometres southeast, even as fire crews there tackled the
remnants of a massive wildfire.

But emergency officials in the community of almost 10,000 said
things were looking up Saturday, with the blaze reduced to 2,635
hectares from 2,757.

Schools were shut down as a precaution Friday, as was the
courthouse.

No relief from extreme burning conditions was expected in the
northeast of the province until at least Sunday, the ministry said.

Some 1,300 people, 15 CL-415 water bombers, four Twin Otter
medium water bombers and 77 helicopters were on hand Saturday to
battle the northeastern Ontario blazes, the ministry said.