POLITICS

State of emergency lifted in Timmins, Ont., after rain dampens forest fires

05/28/2012 04:05 EDT | Updated 07/27/2012 05:12 EDT
TIMMINS, Ont. - The state of emergency has been lifted in Timmins, Ont., after rain helped dampen forest fires that had been raging in northeastern Ontario.

In Kirkland Lake, where an emergency continues, police say they believe a large forest fire there was started by people camping in a popular recreational area.

In Timmins, Mayor Tom Laughren told a news conference Monday that he had just signed an order lifting the emergency.

"With the aggressive suppression effort, the city of Timmins is in no imminent danger," Laughren said.

"This morning — I just signed it at 10 o'clock — we are lifting the state of emergency for the city of Timmins."

Cooler temperatures and rain that fell through late Sunday and early Monday morning helped efforts to suppress the fire, Laughren said.

The fire has not grown since Saturday and remains around 39,500 hectares, about 30 kilometres away from the centre of Timmins, he said.

Weaker winds and cloud cover are helping to keep smoke away from the city of 43,000. In the meantime, Laughren said, 25 four-person fire ranger crews from Ontario and 20 four-person crews from British Columbia are continuing to fight on the front lines of the fire.

Emergency officials say while conditions have improved, the crisis is far from over, and access to at-risk areas will be limited for some time.

Meanwhile in Kirkland Lake to the southeast, Mayor Bill Enouy said officials were keeping their state of emergency in place.

"We decided that we can't drop the state of emergency at this time, even though Timmins is dropping theirs," he said, explaining that the Kirkland Lake fire is situated much closer to where people live.

The 2,600-hectare fire is just three kilometres outside the town, and while some areas were deemed safe by Sunday night, it's still too early to drop the emergency, said Enouy.

"There's still a lot of trails back there and things we want to stop people from accessing," he said. "There's still firefighters out there working. There's still hot spots."

Also Monday, provincial police said they have determined that the Kirkland Lake fire originated in a campfire on the east side of Elsie Lake, also known as Beatrice Lake.

Police and the Ministry of Natural Resources are asking for the public's help in identifying the people who were in that area during the three days prior to May 20, when the fire started.

The Kirkland Lake Fire 8 is still listed as "not under control" since a perimeter has yet to be secured all the way around the fire, Heather Pridham, a Natural Resources spokeswoman, said Monday.

"We've worked really hard on the east flank that parallels the town of Kirkland Lake just to get that under control," she said, adding the west flank will be the next step.

About 60 kilometres to the southwest, Kirkland Lake Fire 13 is estimated to be just over 700 hectares and is also listed as not under control for the same reason, she said.

Heavy equipment including bulldozers are being used to build firebreaks called "cat-guards" around the perimeter of the fire, she said.

Hydro crews were expected to restore power to two area mines later Monday.

Hundreds of residents were forced to flee their homes, cottages and camps near Timmins and Kirkland Lake over the last several days. Some have been allowed to return but many are still waiting for the all-clear. No new evacuations were expected Monday.

Residents of the Mattagami First Nation south of Timmins were given the green light to return home on Monday. More than 100 people from the First Nation were relocated to Kapuskasing last week.

(The Canadian Press, CJKL)