Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011 Weather Great for Vacationers, Not So Great for Our Forests

Extreme Fire Behaviour Sioux Lookout Fire 35

Monday was the official end of the forest fire season in Northwestern Ontario. While vacationers and residents alike enjoy the sun and high temperatures this summer, the same dry, hot weather wrecked havoc on our forests. The 2011 forest fire season recorded many more fires in Ontario than in 2010 and affected a much greater area. As of October 31st, the official end of the fire season, 1,330 forest fires were recorded affecting 632,533 hectares. This is the largest area burned in the last 50 years.

Waterbomer dropping water on Red Lake Fire 59

Unfortunately a lot of the area burned was due to a handful of fires which happened to be in Sunset Country. Sioux Lookout 70 was the largest fire recorded in Ontario history burning 141,000 hectares. Another fire, Sioux Lookout 35, reached 112,000 hectares making it the 8th largest fire on record. These 2 fires accounted for approximately 40% of the total area burned. The 2011 fire season was extraordinary because of the concentration of difficult fires in the northern parts of the Red Lake, Sioux Lookout and Nipigon districts. Smoke from these fires disrupted the lives and businesses of many in the northern communities. 4,476 people were evacuated from 11 northern communities between July 21 and August 9th.

Red Lake was just one of the communities to see smoke most of the summer.

Of the 1,330 fires in 2011, causes have been identified for 1,210 fires. Of those 1,210, about 62% were caused by lightning and 38% were caused by human activities.

Thanks to the efforts of the MNR fire fighters and other provincial fire fighters and many others various workers, most of the fires have been put out completely. Although there are about 15 active fires in Northwest Ontario. July 22, 2011 saw the busiest day fighting fires. To put things into perspective, the resources working that day included:
  • 21 waterbombers
  • 96 helicopters
  • 91 Type-2 sustained action crews
  • 639 out of province staff
  • 2,823 total personnel

You can see on the right hand side just how close the fire got to Thunderhook Fly-ins' cabin

    There are many fly-in outpost cabins up in our northern woods. Normally one is grateful for the peacefulness and the remote wilderness. When there is a huge forest fire at your doorstep in these remote areas though it is hard to save some of the buildings. Thunderhook Fly-ins which fly out of Armstrong saw a lot of fire action this summer. In the heat of the summer, fire fighters were able to save their South Shab outpost cabin. Later in the season though they weren't so lucky. Their cabin on McKinley Lake was totally destroyed. The only thing left standing was the dock, water heater and stove. The canoe's were melted away to nothing. For more photos of the fires at Thunderhook Fly-ins, visit the Thunderhook Fly-ins Facebook page.

    Fly-in outpost cabin on McKinley Lake was unfortunately burned to the ground.

    A special thanks to all the fire fighters and support workers. It is very hard work and your help is much appreciated. To see more photos about the forest fires in Northwest Ontario, the Ministry of Natural Resources has posted many photos depicting the fires. The MNR also has a neat tool on their website that shows all the active fires in Northwestern Ontario. Viking Outposts from Red Lake also have a few more stories and photos of the fires in Northwest Ontario on their blog. You can view them here and here.

    Our boreal forest is meant to burn. Jackpine cones only open with the heat of a fire. Hopefully though next year Sunset Country won't see as many forest fires near our communities and camps. However, this dry fall is probably not helping the cause.

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