A 23,000 hectacre forest fire burning southwest of the City of Timmins has forced the evacuation of Mattagami First Nation.
The forest fire, called Timmins No. 9 by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), began on May 20 in an area southwest of the Highway 101 and 144 junction near Timmins. By May 23 the fire, with a width of more than 40-kilometres, drew closer to the Mattagami reserve, located 80kms south of Timmins.
Mattagami Chief Walter Naveau said he declared an emergency after a teleconference with governmental officials on May 23. Beginning at 7:30 p.m. that evening, about 190 community residents were evacuated to Kapuskasing as the forest fire approached the reserve from the northwest.
Naveau and more than 30 residents remain in the community as of May 24 to protect valuables and send situation updates to the evacuees. Naveau said if the wind changes, “we could have a major problem.”
“We’re already making our plans (to evacuate) and how we can account for all the residents because we’re not going to leave anybody behind,” Naveau said on May 24.
Police vehicles are standing by to escort the remaining residents along the only escape route, which is Highway 144.
Meanwhile, strong winds threaten to accelerate the fire toward Timmins. An emergency area order has been placed on the City of Timmins and its surrounding boroughs due to the fire’s expansion. The fire is classified “not under control” on the MNR website, but crews are working on establishing a control burn on the north-most face of the fire, hoping that the mounds of soil will help stall the blaze.
While residents of Timmins could see smoke from the Timmins No. 9 fire in the distance prior to May 24, as of May 24 smoke covered the city skies.
The Timmins No. 9 fire is the largest of 38 active fires in northeastern Ontario, according to the MNR website. Another fire near Kirkland Lake called Kirkland Lake No. 8 is holding at 2757 hectares in size, with crews making good progress on the hot spots and flare-ups.
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